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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Praxis GPO ski comments...and a systems approach

The Praxis Great Pacific Octopus...GPO for short.

another "selfie" of a happy skier
As an introduction this is Drew Tabke's signature ski from Praxis.  Co-designed by Tabke and Keith O'Meara, the owner of Praxis.  It was not their first rodeo effort together.  And  it shows.

The pair of GPOs I want to comment on and how I will be using them are likely not the norm.  These are 182cm (short for me generally as a alpine/lift specific ski but good for BC jaunts) and mounted with Dynafit Speed Superlight race bindings set up specifically for a pair of Dynafit TLT6 Performance boots.  I was very single minded (read picky as always) on what I wanted this rig for and how I was going to use it.  It was a serious drop in coin for me.  I was hoping I  had it all figured out.

The obvious smirk on my face above is actually just short of a shit eating grin.  I got (am still getting) a lot more than I expected from this combo of boots, ski and bindings.

I wanted to share some on how I got here. 

Boots?  For the kind of skiing I most enjoy I don't need a high powered alpine boot.  Sure I could ski marginally better in a pair of Langes.  BTDT for a few decades.  And I am attempted again at the start of every season.  Thankfully I have a limited gear budget so I have not replaced my old alpine ski boots...intentionally.  On a hope and a prayer I decided to go all in with a tech bindings a few years ago.  And while I look back once in a while, I am pretty happy with that decision today.  Lucky for me the best AT boots keep getting better and better every year.  I expect that to continue with some real innovation for my eventual long term goals coming again soon enough.  Just hoping I live that long now!

Tech bindings (more in a minute on bindings) demand tech capable boots.  I have several of each.  But this boot-binding combo demanded I set them up for one specific BSL.  Nothing else I own matches my 29 TLT for bsl.

There are better Alpine ski boots available than force feeding myself on the TLT.   May be even a few AT boots that are comparable but none that I think are as versatile as the newest TLT6 as a ski specific boot.  None that I am willing to tour any distance in anyway.  So the TLT 6 was an easy choice of the boots I had available to me.

The binding are Dynafits Superlight Speed @ 13oz for the pair!  6.5 oz (185g) per ski for a "real" binding.   And I do mean a real binding.  It is reliable charging hard with my 200# on every ski It has been mounted on for me.  I ski all of the major categories of Dynfit bindings except the BEAST.  And I have tried the TRAB and the Plum bindings.  Speed Superlight is my favorite for lwt,  reliable retention.  And now the binding I am likely to be skiing on the most often in winter.   It also has one of the lowest ramp angles of all the Dynafit binding.  Only one down side I see.  Leashes instead of brakes.

Finally back to the GPO....which I prefer to call the freakin GREAT, Pacific Octopus or just GPO for short!

So I bet you are asking (I would be) how in the hell did I end up with a lwt touring boot, a tech binding at almost a race weight and the same ski the current World Freeride Champion used to win his title with last season?  Only thing Tabke and I might have in common is the hair.

The hair comparison was fair a few decades ago.  It is not now.   Now it is only his ski.

Last winter I bought a pair of short wide Huascaran in a 177cm.  I wasn't expecting much from them really.  Mounted with the same Speed Superlight binding.   I thought they would be a fun side-country and short BC mission ski.   Turns out I really enjoyed them.  Much more than I had originally envisioned.  Wider than I thought I would like, shorter than I thought I would like inbounds but a seriously fun ski every where.  So from that experience I then bought a pair of 178 Hang 5 La Sportiva skis.  Again...similar size ski just a little heavier.  Again way more fun than I thought reasonable.  For my own use I started to realized this short, mid fat ski-thing was solid GOLD for what I wanted and my envisioned use.

Remember I am 6'1" and 190/195# naked.

ski weight with binding. ONE ski, double for the pair:

Huascaran                   4# 5oz   178cm @ 134-112-123 

Hang5                         4# 8oz

GPO carbon version   4# 15oz

GPO UL version         4# 0.65oz  182cm @ 140-116-128

I started looking for similar designed and shaped 5 point skis.

DPS RPC, Rossi Soul 7 and some others were early candidates as was the GPO.  Ski weights kept going up until it was too much for me to use comfortably so I stopped looking very hard.  Not a big fan of carrying more weight than required.  At some point it is skill, not just the gear right?

Easy to emphasis the skill part of the equation instead of gear.  But make no mistake, if you want to make life easier and more fun get the right tool.  It might even actually improve your skill set using the right gear for the effort. We are if anything the "tool users".   So the next time someone makes fun of you being a gear geek just remind yourself the other guy is a Neanderthal.   And we all  know who won that contest.

So I have spent a week now skiing the 182 GPO.  This pair is a carbon lay up, the standard med-stiff flex and the signature GPO Octopus graphics.  Cosmetically a really beautiful ski.  And again I wasn't expecting much.  I was guessing the GPO was going to have a similar feel as the Huascaran and the Hang5.  Just better every where on the down with only a small penalty to be paid on the UP with the added small amount weight and size.  A real leap of faith for the most part.  And knowing all too well  I have been wrong before.

I wasn't able to get my hands on a 182 GPO until late last Summer.  I was chomping at the bit to get them out on late Spring snow but the weather and other commitments  nixed the idea until finally I gave up and started waiting for the new snow of late Fall.

Still a slack snow year to date here.  Even now I hesitate to take any skis out locally at the areas.  But after skiing a few other skis I decided if I was careful I might squeak by and not needlessly trash a new pair of skis with rock damage.

My first decision, prior to skiing the GPO was where to mount them.  The forward mount that Keith specified/suggested was so far out of my comfort zone that it freaked me out a bit.  All the ski numbers, flex and rocker were right on for what I would have spec'ed as the ultimate ski.  I went with my gut knowing something of how the ski had been used on the tour and buddies that skied with Drew.   Still a leap a faith on how they might work for me. Luckily I had months to make the decision on where to mount and spent some time and effort to educate myself on the suggested  mount locations.  And how those suggestions were made within the ski industry as a whole.  Truthfully none of the forward mount stuff made any sense to me until I did the clinic mentioned below and found out what the current teaching dynamics are today.   Last winter I had two skis that I really liked but found the suggested mount locations way to far back for my own use.  Which in turn greatly reduced the value of the skis for me.  I needed to remount them to be happy.  When I started looking around seriously at the mount points other companies use I just got more convinced not everyone knew what they were doing.  Adding tech bindings and boots and the resulting "ramp" issues did not help in my decision making.  But  I was determined to NOT let a mis-mounted ski  happen to me again.   I don't like re-drilling skis.  I want to do it right the first time!

In the end, still not totally convinced it was the right place, I mounted the mid-sole mark on my TLT6 exactly on the "dimple" Keith @ Praxis had suggested.

Forget the theory shit.  Proof is in the skiing, right? 

Day One"

"Skiing the GPO in boney warm conditions on mostly soft, but some reasonably hard groomers in the shade as well and some soft uncompacted bottomless snow in the sun.  I  am still not sure what that uncompacted stuff was.  But I do know snow sharks lay just beneath the surface.  Nasty mashed potatoes with rocks.  It is a bad dinner side dish.  Lots of snow options, none good for ringing out the first day on a beautiful pair of new ski.   No fluff to be found to play in.  On the groomers?  Different story entirely.  Not sure I have gone faster any where out of free fall.  This ski is a HUGE confidence builder.  It is rock solid under your feet.    It simply jetted over everything I skied.  Any shaped turn, any condition.    Slave unlimited vertical?  Check!  Tight radius swivels? Check!  Railed groomers at mach? "What ever speed you are comfortable with"?  Check!   Keith is bang on the mount point IMO. The GPO will set an edge and hold it at mach what ever you can ride out!  I have yet to reach a speed limit.  And I was actually trying short of going into a tuck.  At some point even I started questioning my use of a tech binding with this ski.   I don't to ever blow up going that fast on a groomer no matter what kind of binding I am using.  I was starting to think a DIN of 11 wasn't a bad idea again.   Only problem I see was feeling solid and really comfortable on the GPO with that kind of binding and all.

This ski simply and unquestionably rips some serious chit. I want more snow to take out my 192 GPOs, but the 182 just turned Crystal into a really, really small hill for me. Cut in half actually. Flying and sooooooo very fun."  I have to seriously wonder just how many runs one could get off the Midi in a day with a pair of GPOs on your feet?   Not a ski I would have ever thought of taking to Chamonix.  But I am now.

I am exceptionally pleased with the entire package.  But a day only builds so much confidence.  The GPO, and TLT 6 are not old friends yet.  The next chance I had to use the GPO was a instructors' clinic.  I have a few pairs of skis.  All carefully picked for some silly reasons.  None of them something I would consider optimal for a instructor's clinic while skiing lifts in the current snow conditions.

But one place you are sure to really get a feel for a ski is using them where you have no choice in the terrain or techniques that will be required of you.   I knew (or hoped I knew) my new TLT6 would be good for 6 or 7 hours on the snow without any pain early season.  Just had to pick a ski mated to that boot.  Risky ego wise, but I like to bet on my choices and see how it all turns out.  Nothing but ego and public humiliation at risk, right?

My clinician was on a Rossi Experience 88 and a pair of  spec built, custom fit Langes.   He made a point of expressing his opinion (or was it disdain) at our first meet and greet that only "gear freaks" use a tech anything.  Me being the only one there in a 'tech anything" bent over and busy snapping on my leashes.   I figured it was going to be a long day if that was the how things were going to start.  Turns out it was a long day by that measure.    No one there knew me from Cold Thistle or had seen me ski.  They still have no clue about Cold Thistle.  So it is my turn now  :-)

Turns out at least IMO my GPO and tech bindings and the TLT 6 was at least 95% of what my instructor had for gear that day.   May be more as I had 25 years on the instructor.  It is hard to judge the gear as lacking by that comparison.   And easily good for 100% of what was asked of the class.  I was, on occasion, short on the personal skills required but it was never my gear's fault. 

Much of the credit goes to the GPO.  It is a solid ski in any condition I have used it.  I am expecting some great things once we start getting out typical maritime snow pack built up.    But that will be another story.  And one I'll get to tell in a 182 and a 193 version, with a different set of boots and bindings (still all tech gear however) .  And still no ski brakes to be seen on my skis much to the horror of my PSIA examiner.

I am quite surprised by just how versatile the GPO is.  And really quite pleased.

I'll leave you with this.  Half the day we were asked to ski with our boots using only one buckle.  I'm always happy to oblige any reasonable request  that has a chance at improving my own skiing.  But it helps that this wasn't the first time being asked either.  My instructor and the entire class were in 4 buckle Alpine boots with an additional power strap snugged tight.  So "their" answer was to use the power strap and the instep buckle.  IMO kinda cheating...more like they were using two "buckles" really if you know much about over lap shells on a decent Alpine boot.  I knew they weren't giving up much.  BTDT.  I simply unbuckled my instep on the 6.  I wasn't giving up much either because I have made the point of having a very well fitting TLT.   Then I skied all day like that.   One buckle, no strap, and a BIG/LOOSE alpine touring, technical ice climbing fit on  the forefoot of my TLT6.  All done with a CR factory liner and my Superfeet cork orthotics.   Ya, like  I said, "nice boot".

That says a lot about the capabilities of the boot.  But it might say even more about the quality of the ski and how easy it is to ski well even in trying circumstances.  

One of the very few comments directed at me the entire day, past three syllables,  in our 7 person class was on the last run, on the ride up.   Our 7 were just one party of the almost a dozen pre-season instructor's clinics happening that day.   The question was, "How do you like your new skis?"  Funny as it turns out he knew all about Praxis and the GPO.   I suspect he just though the GPO as wasted on some old grey hair dude, in '70's sunglasses and skiing that "tech" stuff.   May be they are.  But you won't hear me  complaining!

I have no doubt now that the GPO was an exceptionally good choice with this boot and binding combo.  I also have gained huge respect for Keith's ski knowledge and  mount location suggestions.  I shouldn't have worried so much.   Mount on the Praxis dimple!  You'll love it.

There is a down side however to all of this.  Those huge climbs for max vertical we do with  lwt tech gear are still a lot of work on the up.  Add some weight and it just gets worse.   The down side you ask?  The GPO just cut any of those climbs, in any snow condition you'll likely encounter, in half on the down.   Who knew a purple Octopus was going to be such a giant killer?  Keith and Drew I suspect.

The GPO is an exceptional ski.  A stand out for me in a class of really exceptional skis being built today.

More to come as we get more snow on the 192 GPO and some other great skis.

Feedback and questions on the GPO?  Most every one is or can be answered here by Keith himself:

or the link to TGR below:


Andy said...

Nice first take, Dane. Thanks again for steering me towards looking at these for my quiver expansion this year, I'm as thrilled with them as you are. Seven days on them so far, and they've taken everything I threw at them and then some.

Dane said...

Thanks Andy. GPO is quite a pleasant surprise isn't it :)

Where did you mount? And what are you useing for a boot and binding?

Anonymous said...

Hey dane, i meet you on the gondola down at crystal mountain on Saturday. i gave you that whistle. hope you can share about that with your blog. further more i found this cool touring binding set up that u might like. its Called the Si&i. i think you will find it interesting.

Dane said...

Ha, ha! Surprised you remember the blogs name! Good on ya and thanks for making the effort! I wasn't blowing smoke on the whistle commentary. Great idea. Something I might offer as a Cold Thistle item at some point in the future. Thank you for the sample. Drives my dog buggers! As you can see a little more jammed than I wanted to be on projects right now but I will be writing them up eventually. Cast/SI&I? I've known of them prior to the Kickstarter effort. Neat stuff. Thanks

Andy said...

Dane, went with Vulcans and had a pair of Vert STs around to mount up; shimmed the toe by 8mm to knock out the excess ramp. Not exactly a light setup, but as you've observed, it certainly rips. Mount is at -1.5cm on the 187s, which has seemed fine so far. Looking forward to getting out in the steep and deep with them.

Dane said...

Nice set up Andy! I have a pair of 192s drilled for a Speed Radical w/ a dynafit shim on the toe. Planning on using the Spectre with them for lifts and short side country jaunts. Should be a powerfull rig. Mounted them at -2.5cm. Hopeing now that wasn't a fool's error. GPO has a big sweet spot I think/hope. We'll see soon enough just how bad I screwed them up :) Thanks for chiming in. And really glad you like the ski! Fun stuff!!

Anonymous said...

"Dimple" location please.

Great to FINALLY see detailed ski geometry info. Too bad 90%+ of ski manufacturers do not do that. Reduces the chance of me buying from them.
M., .ua

Dane said...

It is different for each size ski. Send Keith and email. I am sure he'd be happy to answer that quetion for you.

Ryan Corry said...

Dane, a bit off topic, but i couldnt help but notice what looks like a custom sleeve for your hydration hose on your pack. What is that material? Since most of the packs i want to wear dont have an "integrated" hydration hose in the shoulder strap, i want to use a material that is gonna HELP prevent freezing. THanks


Dane said...

Hi Ryan, it is a foam tube that slides over the hose. I put it on in Sept and take it off in May generally. I got this one at REI. $20. "Platypuss Bite Valve and Drink Tube Insulator Kit".