by Bob Mazarei
Short Skis Suck!
I havent seen that t-shirt in a while. Probably cause that
proclamation doesnt hold much water nowadays: modern ski
designs have made it much easier for us to ski fast (and slow)
with maximum control within the context of the whole mountain.
Its shrink-wrapped insta-shred compared to the way it used
to be. Simply put, shorter and wider skis not only deliver for
the masses, they also provide unparalleled premium level performance
for experts. These types of skis have been the standard for firm
and technical, as well as for drawn out and with speed, for a
long time now. So yeah, the modern ski design, schralp-in-a-box
denouement above is what does hold waterkind of.
Long Skis Rock!
Still, saying all that, there is special section set aside within
my quiver that never fails to sock my rocks off, get the blood
moving at ADSL velocity, and legs pumping like Merckx on the
Ventoux. That special section, code-named, Yeah Right!
No Wrongs contain Long-Ass Skis.
Doug Ross, my old boss at the Sport
Chalet Beverly Hills, set me up with my first pair back in 1990.
Sporting his light blue button down manager shirt, he handed
me two pair of skis that he used to race on: a sweet pair of
208cm Spalding Squadra Courses, and a monster pair of 222cm
Blizzard Firebirds. He had smiled softly when, earlier in the
week, I told him what I planned on doing with the Blizzards.
My equipment inspirations in 1990
were my then recently purchased Merrell Super Comps with the
white cuffs. These boots made my previous ankle-high Merrells
seem like by-the-fire slippers. Compared to what was out there
at the time, the Super Comps bumped telemark control over my
Kazama Outback and Black Diamond Tele Sauvage skis to new levels.
So much so, that I wanted to mount tele bindings on the 222 Blizzards.
There was another interesting whiff
in the air at the time: talk of an all-plastic telemark boot
in the works. And sure enough, I spied a photo in a trade paper
of a prototype robo-looking plastic Asolo tele boot. Moreover,
word was also floating around about Paul
Parker and Scarpa working on their own plastic telemark boot.
Mr. McGuire: I
want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Mr. McGuire: Are
Mr. McGuire: Plastics!
how do you mean that, sir?
Personal circumstances led me to
bail Los Angeles in October 1991, a one-way ticket outnext
stop Switzerland and the ski Mecca of Verbier.
A spot to sleep was my first concern
upon my arrival in Verbier. I had the means (a tent) but I needed
a place. But finding somewhere flat in the trees adjacent to
Verbier proved difficult. What made the tree skiing so good (slope
angle) made pitching a tent very bad. Eventually I found a spot
in the trees, barely large enough, behind a boulder just high
enough, to hide the tent from prying eyes. (The Swiss, generally
known as by the book law-abiding, would certainly alert the authorities
about a scruffy American homesteading in the forest). I had five
pairs of skis with me, a snowboard, my Klein mountain bike, an
expedition duffle full of outdoor gear, and $1000 cash.
It was a discouraging time. I arrived
in October figuring Id get the jump on everyone finding
a good job. The reality, much to my dismay, was that Verbier
was mostly shut downpractically a ghost village. So there
I was, living in the trees with no showers available, trying
to find a job (plus landing a job meant dealing with the work
permit scenario) with no knowledge of French, biding time with
hardly anyone around, all with limited funds.
Suffice it to say, it all worked
out in the end. (I met my future wife my first day in Verbier.
She was working in the Verbier post office. I went in to get
some stuff from the duffle Id left there. She let the clueless
Californian into the back of the post, breaking all the security
rules). That first season was incredible.
And when I arrived back for my second
season, Id brought the two pair of skis that Doug Ross
had given me.
The Scarpa Terminator
and the Blizzard Firebird 222s
The problem with the Super Comps
was that the leather in the forefoot would soften with time,
leading to an edge-to-edge lag because of the loss in torsional
rigidity. Plus, the leather would eventually tear. The boots
ruled, at least while they were still fresh.
Falkiner, at the time, was
testing and giving feedback on the new plastic Scarpa
telemark boot dubbed the Terminator. When I first saw John
on these strange new boots, I saw several issues that previously
plagued telemark boots all being resolved at once. Namely: warmth
and the lack thereof; the tendency of leather to get wet when
not treated or as the leather aged; consistency in flex; durability;
and finally the aforementioned loss of torsional rigidity over
time. I was psyched.
It was a blustery powder day the
first time I tried the Terminator, December 4, 1992. It started
out a disaster. I clicked the bail down tightly on my Kazama
Outbacks three-pin bindings and set off, only to have the
boot overpower the binding set-up on my third tele turn. The
pins ripped right through the sole rubber. This happened a couple
more times and I realized just how much torque these boots generated.
So I ran to the apartment and got some Kazama Tele-Comps with
cable bindings that resolved the pin-rip problem.
It took a while to get my head around
leaving the leather feel behind. In a lot of ways
I didnt want to. Those were the days when we didnt
use risers of any kind; this, combined with the inherent sensitivity
of leather produced an awesome ski feel. And it seemed as if
I would lose this feel forever by changing to plastic. (My trepidation
turned out to be groundless, mainly because of a simple notion:
skiers adapt to equipment). I went back and forth between the
Terminator and the Super Comps for the next couple of months
but by spring I was comfortably settled in Terminator-land.
The Terminator made the whole concept
of mounting up and skiing the 222cm Blizzards more viable. In
my mind, the stiffness of the boot and, more importantly, their
instantaneous side-to-side responseno lag, no slopopened
up interesting possibilities. I mounted them up with Riva cables
April 8th, 1993, and took them out the next day, not having any
idea what to expect, whether this would even work, whether I
would break a leg trying. I headed up to Savoleyres, a cruisy,
quiet area for my initial experiments. At this point I thought
at best, the skis would be a novelty type of deal. My normal
skis, Kazama Outbacks, measured 205cms at 72-59-64, whilst these
Blizzard DH boards came in at 222cms and 88-70-78.
They felt like fat skis (a laughable
concept nowadays) when I stepped into the Rivas. (I had
a pair of Mountain Noodles at the timethe Noodle being
the original wide ski. The Blizzards were different in that they
were Viagra-stiff). I pushed off and headed down the piste and
the first impression waswhoa! These skis are so stable.
I thought that they would be beyond tough but in reality they
turned incredibly well. Next run I hit the firm off-piste and
my eyes were opened. They just powered. A few hours in and I
was laying out huge telemarks; parallel turns were a blast; and
I could even do quick bounces off the edges. I could hardly believe
how much fun these skis were. The smile was plastered on my face
and it wouldnt leave.
Firebird 222's.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Two days later, Easter Sunday, I
headed up under cloudy skies thinking it would be average, just
wanting to get up for some fresh air. To my surprise, the Lac
des Vaux sector was open and fresh knee-deep powder covered the
off-piste. I started lapping the short runs in the Lac; just
unbelievable DH powder tele turns. Then I spied British Jim and
another dude airing off this rock next to the chairlift. And
I took their lead hitting it three times in a row, 15 footers
into the soft pow, unreal flying with the 222s. I was just
howling at this point, everything familiar but oh, so new. Then
(again surprisingly) Tortina long, steep, classic bowl
famous in Switzerlandopened.
Ahhh no! I had to meet my wife Fabienne
and her family for Easter lunch down in Le Châble (below
Verbier) at noon, and it was 11:05. No!
What was I going to do?
I had to go
hit Tortin! Rushing
over, I traversed out halfway, the unbroken powder blanket sparkling
below me, only 15 or so other ski tracks spread around the massive
Tortin. After a tentative couple of turns to check the base,
I let the skis run at speed but doing tight turns, full-on face
shots all the way to the bottom. The flow and rush I felt is
hard to describefor these kinds of things arent supposed
to be possible, right? But then you find that not only is it
possible, it can make for ripping situations. Blasting the rest
of the way down, back into the gondola, ski down to Verbier to
change clothes, then down the gondola again to Le Châble,
I arrived a half-hour late for lunch. Fabienne was pissed.
My Verbier season finished with
five more days on the Blizzards. Bernie Bernthal and I did the
first tele descent of the Barbey Couloir off the Aiguille dArgentière
(with the skinny Kazamas) with John Falkiner and Mike Hattrup
(both on alpine gear). Then I flew to California to work Mammoth
Mountain's storied spring skiing for another six weeks. This
is where I discovered the Blizzards true calling: Mammoths
early morning wide-open pistes, and especially, the softening
Mammoth spring bumps. Day after day I worked the prime bump skiing
off Climax, Drop Out, and Wipe Out. After a few days of this
bump pounding, the shovels bent slightly so that the 222s
skied more like a 219. The snow would fly off the tips so violently,
with so much velocity, that on the warm days when I would ski
in shorts, Id get bloody shins and knees from razor cuts
caused by the ice crystals shooting off the shovels (no low stance,
medium to high all the way).
The Barbey Couloir, Aiguille
d'Argentière.--ph. Sylvane Millioud
John Falkiner preparing the
cornice entrance of the Barbey Couloir, Spring 1993.--ph. Bob
Bernie Bernthal freeheeling
the Tête Blanche, Plateau Trient, Spring 1993.--ph. Bob
on Plateau Trient.--ph. Bob Mazarei
This spring of 93 stood out for
other reasons as well: I had the honor of doing some runs with
the late, great Alan Bard.
I used to get restless reading about the antics of Bard, Carter,
and Cox in those old issues of Powder. Big Tim and I would
incessantly pass the mag back and forth in high-school English
class; we couldnt get enough of it. Those classic stories
just fired up our imaginations. They were life changing.
Big Tim and I skied his last day
of the season on June 28th, windy and warm, just the two of us
working the bump runs, one end to the other, unreal for Tims
last day. A week later, July 5th, I found myself on top, sunny
and warm, in shorts and the 222smy 164th day of the
season, with 30 days on the Blizzards. The last run I spotted
Glen Plake on Wipe Out
and skied up to him (Falkiner and Ace
Kvale told me to deliver a message if I happened to see him).
He was on 223s. Glen did a double take when he glanced
down at my boards. I gave him the message with a smile, cut
your hair already. Glen grinned, What are those guys
Trying to schwarznegger
the arms. Falkiner, Mazarei, Hattrup & Bernthal, Spring 1993.
John opting for his famous calf flex instead.--ph. D'Arcy
He then blasted down knees glued together,
one turn, two turns, three turns, tight. Glen then exploded fiercely
off a bump, spun a perfect stylie 360, landed and shot off, gone.
Glen rules so hard.
Dynastar Descent 223s
The next few seasons saw some classic
days on the Blizzards, mostly early and late season; but also
days entering couloirs, the tips and tails scraping on side-step
entrances. They can be difficult in situations like these. Challenging.
Mont Gèlè, Vallon dArbi, the Attelas Couloirs.
Once on a road trip to France I dropped in on one of my best
buds, ex-Freestyle stalwart and Chamonix
legend, Gary Bigham. He took one look at the skis and said lets
hit the Grands
Montets. At the top of the tram he dragged his young Swedish
girlfriend and I over the railing.
Gary is one of the funniest guys
ever to go skiing with. His knowledge of the massive terrain
of the Chamonix Valley is impressive, especially since hes
originally from Detroit. Hes the type of skier who rips,
but you dont realize the extent of it immediately because
of the subtleness. For a guy who weighs maybe 145lbs, his steadfastness
and touch are telling. Twice he took us over the railing, down
the scary, icy traverse that led to one of the Montets
phenomenal runs towards the Glacier dArgentière.
Gary had another idea after those two huge runs, a couloir he
wanted to check. Problem was, he wasnt sure about the conditions.
We entered the dark gully and found rock hard snow. The three
of us had to side step down this evil-looking couloir till we
were down low enough to make some turns. He still talks about
that day and telemarking on DH boards off the Grands Montets.
Bernie Bernthal borrowed the Blizzard's
towards the end of the season. The skis were getting tired by
this stage, but never mind, he wanted to use them to telemark
for his Swatch Team in the famous Derby de la Meije in La
Grave. He pulled off the original side-throw Rivas,
slapped on some risers and a newer pair of back-throw Rivas,
decorated the skis with Swatch stickers and various other off-color
French proclamations and proceeded to kick booty in the king
of all Chinese Downhills.
I procured my second pair of DH
boards from ex-Swiss National Ski Team member Olivier
Roduit. Downhill boards are not that easy to find so I had
put out my feelers and got a hit with Olivier. Yes, I have
some downhill skis in my basement. I can give them to you,
he said with his mild French accent.
The soft-spoken Olivier has, over
the years, earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished
ski mountaineer and ski-extrême practitioners around. And
one of the most highly-sought after mountain guides in the region.
(He is, as of this writing, in the Karakorum with Jean
Troillet, Fréd Roux, and Mike
Horn. Jean is holding a permit for all four of the 8k-meter
peaks in the area, K2 being the big prize).
So my second pair of DH boardsDynastar
Descents measuring 223cms and 89-74-78had a good pedigree.
I mounted them up with Riva cables on February 1, 1996. They
proved to be a tougher ski to turn owing to, I imagine, the slightly
less sidecut compared to the Blizzards. They also have tiny racing
edges, half the width of a normal edge. This and the fact that
the skis had been used and tuned more than the Blizzards made
them more fragile. My main ski for 95-96 was the Black Diamond
Badlands, a ski fairly wide for the era. (Bernie acquired a pair
of short Voilè Mtn. Surfs that were wide. He treated them
as fun but gimmickyI dont think he skied on them
more than five or six times).
The Dynastar Descente 223's.--ph.
As the season wore on, I started taking the Dynastars out more,
culminating in another second season in Mammoth,
once again with Big Tim and Mitch, Dan-o, Wailin'
Kalin, and the rest of the So Cal crew. Most of those wonderful
spring days were on the 223s. At this point, our small
crew over here in Verbier skied mostly on T2s, finding
them much more comfortable than bigger boots. At the time I had
T1s only for the DH boards. (Falkiner, to this day, cant
stand T1s. He thinks they are way overkillof course,
he doesnt like really fat boards either).
Swiss seasons went by and the Dynastars
became worn. The screws pulled out of one of them and the boys
at No. 1 Sports
had a tough time trying to place new screws. The skis seemed
hollow, like maybe the core shrank somehow. We eventually sank
some solid screws by filling the ski with as much glue as would
fit. At this point I was on the lookout for some new DH boards,
perhaps a newer model with a more modern sidecut; the type popularized
by Bode and the new generation of downhillers.
Rossignol Dualtec DH
Enter the fluoro-yellow Rossi Dualtec
217cm skis, a modern DH board measuring 91-64-79 underfoot. Luck
was with me when I scored this pair, as finding DH boards hadnt
gotten any easier over the years. I mounted them with Rottefella
R8s on March 22, 2005. I had scoped two other pair of DHs
(one, a womens pair) but it was necessary to buy them (imagine
that), something I was trying to avoid.
I was only able to ski eight days
on them before leaving on a ski-expedition to India. But what
fun those eight days were, just great stuff. Turn-wise the Rossis
spun circles around the old Blizzards and left the Dynastars
in the dust.
The beginning of season European
kick-off that is the Stubai
Telemark Festival found me back on these awesome skis. (Ive
made it a point to not use my regular skis at tele-festivals.
Thats no fun. We need to celebrate the ski and equipment
manufacturers of modern alpine and telemark gear, the guys that
work hard to make our pastime so much of a goddamn blast. And
what better way then to start and finish the season at these
festivals on the old, or funky. Its either the 20 year-old
skinny skis with three-pins, or the big boys).
The Rossi 217s have great
mojo as well: they used to be owned by local World Cup Downhill
Besse (Ret. 4 DH Wins, 13 Pod. 42 Top 10). A good friend
of my brother-in-law (Jackie FarquetGuardian Cabane
de Chanrion) this Bagnard
badass from Bruson always gets a smile when he sees me on his
By the beginning of the 05-06
season, another pair of Rossi 217s came into my acquisition.
Virtual twins to my first pair, I now knew I had a good reliable
source for these hard to find skis. The first 23 days of this
season were spent on the 217sI didnt get on
real tele skis until December 17th.
By this time, my wife and I had
a kid, something that normally puts a damper on activities such
as skiing; for me, a dispiriting thought at best. But, thanks
to a mother-in-law worth her weight in gold, I neednt have
worried too much. From Dec. 17th through April 1st, I skied 106
days in a row, finally missing a day when the family and I drove
to the Livigno
Free Heel Festival. (My son Sam finished the season with
39 days, not bad for a 4 year-old). During that stretch, Big
Tim came and skied, getting back into the Verbier vibe. This
coincided with a mini-Cali invasion of tele-enthusiasts of the
highest order: Chris Lohman,
Ben Paik, Andy Scott, Dan-o, and Rick
Wheatley (popping over from his new home in Norway). The
timing couldnt have been better: powder covered the western
Alps and the boys were ripping it up. Some awesome skiing went
and the Rossignol Dualtec 217's.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Switzerland, Sept. 20, 2007.--ph. Mark Shapiro
Then additional good juju: I got
to hang with World Cup DH monster, Luc
Alphand of France (Ret. 3x DH, 1x SG, 1x Overall Cup Winner).
He was in the nightclub next to where I work. Fortunately, I
had my second pair of Rossi 217s with me (which was cool
cause he skis for Rossignol). The genial
French Downhiller turned racecar ace (he won the Paris-Daker
last year; and is racing his Corvette C6-R in the Le Mans series,
including le 24 Heures du Mans) cracked up when he saw the tele-mounted
217s. As he signed my skis, he looked up with his honed,
look-way-ahead Clint-squint and said, Excellent! Ces skis
Sam with Bernie Bernthal's Tevamarks.--ph. Bob Mazarei
and his Alph-ancock styling the Rossi 217's.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Back to the Sierra
It had been a while since Id
last enjoyed a Mammoth Mountain second season and
I was psyched when the opportunity presented itself. With a plane
ticket booked, I landed in LAX and was in the mountains a few
days later, spring pass in hand.
Mammoth was the same as it ever
was: awesome spring skiing, the mornings firm, quickly softening
with each run, a steady cadre of visiting skiers to do turns
with, everything dripping in California sunshine. I had arrived
with a full quiver of Movement
Freeride skis to tele with: Free Heels, PowPows, and
Goliaths. The skis never saw the Cali sunshine, however, because
I skied every day of the three-week session on the Rossi DH 217s.
The big skis were just too much
Sam and the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT)
Tele skis signed by the man who has won more Alpine ski competitions
than any other. A feat that may never be broken. Those skis? Golden
baby, golden.--ph. Steffan Johansson and Bob Mazarei
magic.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Wide open on
the Saas-Fee glacier. A graphic on the Rossis says, "R=40m."
My turns weren't quite that big.--ph. Mark
Tioga Pass backcountry,
Spring 2006.--ph. Tim Connolly
Bob and Big
Tim.--ph. Cory Connolly
I ended the season with 179 days,
having soaked up spring days with TelemarkTalk Forum skiers,
Kara, Gwen, Cate, Lohman, Mitch, Wailin Kalin, Seki and
his mate, Rachel, as well as others, telemark fanatics, all.
The best, however, was finding myself up on Climax with my oldest
ski partner of all: Big Tim Connolly. Weve been skiing
together since we were both 16 years old, since we could first
drive. But it had been a while since wed last skied together
in Mammoth and it was like days past up on that ridge.
hard down the hill. (But skiing too low, Al Jolson-style!)--ph.
Rossignol Power Pulsion
DH 217s and the NTN
Then we dropped into Climax, Tims
son, tele-Cory at our side. The bumps were big and soft, perfect.
And Tim and I blasted the moguls, matching each other turn for
turn, snow exploding, a bit of air to release edges in between,
a flash of snow by our thighs, chest, and smiling faces, pellets
and chunks of white flying past as if shot from a double-barrel,
turn after turn all the way till we hit the flats.
Big Tim, Cory,
Mazarei, Rachel H, Lucy, Sierra Fred, and Seki at the coolest
gas station ever.--ph. ttips.com
Enter the new Rottefella
NTN binding and Scarpa TX boot.
I had been meaning to try the system
for a while but was never really pressed to get around to it.
I scored another pair of modern DH Rossignols, these Power Pulsions
from 05 or 06. The new Rossis got me fired
up, so I mounted em with the NTN, figuring this would be
a good test of the Scarpa-Rottefella system.
January 29, 2008: my first day,
hell, my first three turns with the system, were a joy. The power
transmission through to those big boards absolutely ruled.
Ive since skied 28 more days
on the Rossi-Scarpa TX-NTN combo (as well as 139 days on the
black and yellow Scarpa TX-Pro, and a further 85 days on Scarpa's
prototype NTN race boot, the TX-Comp,
due out for the '09/'10 season).
Firm snow on
the Attelas couloir drop-in.---ph. Mark Shapiro
Pulsion 217's mounted with Rottefella NTN's.--ph. Mark Shapiro
So, there you go: 250+ days on three
different Scarpa NTN boots and two different model year Rottefella
NTN bindings, pushing them hard and all without a single issue.
Not a single one.
Your mileage may vary of course,
but it is a fact worthy of note.
.........SSize Matters (V.2)
Here is a
compact, all-skiing edit of Bob's well received video from last
year, this shorter version features music by our longtime friend
and ski partner Matt Kalin.
The Plastic Boot Revolution
in Verbier. The NTN/Scarpa TX combo rocking race-stock 217's.
Photo: Mark Shapiro
Gear wise, the
NTN is the way forward. And the story has just begun. Photo: Mark
Although it would be possible to
ski these race-stock DH boards with the likes of leather Super
Comp, at least when new, though things would get sloppy fairly
quickly. The all-plastic Terminators upped the ante a long time
ago. It's been long enough now that maybe skiers forget just
how much the plastic boot turned telemark on its head, and remolded
it into the sport that we see today.
Torsional consistency and overall
rigidity the hallmark characteristics of all plastic telemark
boots allowed me to hammer away on these skis (a total
of 180+ days tele-ing on DH boards).
Like Mr. McGuire said: Plastics.
It is the basis of why we can ski
on the big boards like we do.
No new snow
in Verbier for three weeks. Bob sniffing out and banking some
soft snow anyway. Racing skis!. Photo: Mark Shapiro
Everything written above is fine
and dandy. But Id like to leave you with a thought from
one of telemark skiing's original Renaissance Men, a hero of
mine, that sage of the northeast and beyond, Dickie
Hall. His philosophies regarding the other end of the telemark
spectrum: XCDcross-country downhillare spot-on.
will teach you about how to use your body, not your gear.
Nils Larsens interview with Dickie Hall is a must read.
Very highly recommended. You can find it at Off-Piste
Magazine, Issue XXXIII, March 2007.
One of my favorite things is to
hop on the light gearsometimes on the lightest gear possible
(like the time I took a pair of Fischer Country Crowns from Col
de la Chaux down to Fionnaya story well save for
another day). Just imagine what Rick Wyatt did on the Grand Tetonawesome
stuff. And in case anyone was wondering: Im 6 feet and
weigh 165lbs (183cms and 75kg).
Also, on a personal note,
Id like some help in dating the
DH skis you see in the photographs. I could start digging but
I figure the inestimable skiers on the Telemark Talk Forum would
have the answers Im seeking, probably right on the fingertips.
Mazarei just days after his sixth birthday.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Sam high and tight rocking La Chaux, Verbier.--ph. Bob Mazarei
Pure Skiing 365 Days
Matter.--ph. Bob Mazarei
About the author: In
1991 Bob Mazarei said goodbye to his friends here in southern
California and moved to Switzerland. Just two years later, POWDER
magazine's Steve Casimiro wrote an intro in which he referred
to Bob as "The Mayor of Verbier." We were all amazed,
but not really surprised. Bob is a raconteur nonpareil, and we
continue to feel privaleged to share his stories with our readers,
as well as to call him an old and much appreciated friend and
telemark partner. His ski resume includes more than a dozen descents
from over 17,000 feet, as well as at least 30 climb/skis of note
from around the world, including a ski descent from the nearly
25,000 foot high summit of Muztagh Ata in the Pamirs. Best of
all, he is a blast to ski with, whether we are harvesting backcountry
corn in the spring, spinning laps on a powder morning, or just
cruising groomers on a sunny day... getting turns with Bob has
always been incredibly fun, and he has been an inspiration to
Big Tim and myself pretty much from the time we first dropped
a knee. -- Mitch
Bob Mazarei is sponsored
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