During the recent tradeshow circus some of the regulars in the outdoor writers circuit were invited to check out Dean Cumming’s boutique ski offerings under the name H2O Gear. If the snow gods agreed it would be epic, and if they continued withholding it would still be fun to ski at Alta for a day.While we spent more time skiing than talking, with the skiing so tough conversation turned to one of Dean’s favorite subjects, safety. It was especially refreshing to hear some of his ideas on how to avoid getting caught in an avy. Like reading terrain and knowing when to hold the high ground on ridges, and when to follow the contours down low. That’s easy enough to say, but how do you know you’re in the right place?
Dean suggests you “imagine all the snow turning to water and then figure out where and how it would flow. Do you want to be in the flow, or above it?” It’s a pretty simple thing to envision as well as the consequences.
I like how it also brings to mind one of the key factors in avalanches – heat. If all that snow turned to water, it had to warm up. In the real world heat makes new snow a more cohesive slab which exerts a greater force on a poorly bonded layer below. It’s like loading the chamber with another bullet. Guns don’t kill people and snow doesn’t kill people — not until a person pulls the trigger that is. It is rare for a person to accidentally wander on to a natural release already in progress.
Understanding the flow of snow is what inspired Cummings to develop his own ski brand because it’s not only about avalanches, it’s about riding that snow for the best powdering skiing experience possible. Many of his clients come to fly with Dean in his heli guiding operation and he sees what they need. Fatter skis.
No, even fatter ones.
The skinniest ski H2O Gear offers is the Tazlina — at the bottom of the fat scale with a healthy 108mm at the waist. A plank in my book. He tops out his line with an aircraft carrier sized pair of boards called Karen’cito — a full 133mm at the waist and a complete waste of hard earned cash if you’re earning turns, I mean, c’mon, are you serious about lugging that thing uphill? But for when you’re lapping up the vertical while burning federal reserve notes it is a valid contender. The 108mm wide Tazlina, on the otherhand, is definitely backcountry worthy.
A group of BC writers did get to ski the Karen’cito and Kodiak at Alta earlier this year. It was arguably the worst possible conditions for evaluating H2O Gear’s fat powder boards. Calling it scratchy powder would be the best way to reference the hardpack conditions that dominated slopes throughout western Amerika at the time. Hard and icy is more accurate. Thankfully I had opted to ski with training heels that day, so with a borrowed pair of Scarpa Hurricane’s we cruised the slopes of Alta.Frankly I didn’t think I’d be able to hold an edge or carve on these boards even with my heel locked. But I had forgotten how much additional edge control locked heels can provide.
The Karen’cito (133mm W) did an admirable job of not hooking, and for such a stocky ski, carved a steady wide radius turn or medium when driving your knees far better than expected. It was very stable at speed and I can only imagine how delightfully they would ride in phat snow.
• Length 191cm: 165-133-149, Flex (7), Radius 26m, Weight 10lbs
• Length 181cm: 165-133-149, Flex (7), Radius 23m, Weight 9lbs
• Length 171cm: 165-133-149, Flex (7), Radius 20m, Weight 9lbs
Naturally my fave for the day was the Kodiak, a more moderate 120 mm at the waist, and expectedly, more lively than Karen’cito, and more comfortable in all conditions. It turned at whatever radius you told it to, but it seemed to love fast GS turns, but maybe that’s just my preference.
• Length 191 cm: 151-120-132.5, Flex (7), Radius 27.5m
• Length 184 cm: 151-120-132.5, Flex (7), Radius 25m
• Length 174 cm: 151-120-132.5, Flex (7), Radius 22m
The only pair of Tazlina were mounted with Switchbacks and I felt bad for Tyler being on such a wide ski with such an underpowered binding in hard, edge-demanding conditions. It was not a tele day worth talking about, except as an example of conditions to avoid. Still it was skiing and Tyler had a smile as big as the rest of us.
• Length 191cm: 137-108-124, Flex (6), Radius 27m
• Length 184cm: 137- 108- 124, Flex (6), Radius 25m
• Length 174cm: 137-108-124, Flex (6), Radius 22m
All these skis are the same price – $899.