Saturday, January 31, 2009

Forget the never ending story. Try the never ending search

To quote a song title from U2, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. To look at them, my feet appear pretty normal. I'm about a ladies size 8-8.5 (US), smallest in my family. My right big toe is a little crooked, I could use a pedicure some days and I have a freckle on both of my second toes but none of that should be contributing to my difficulty in finding the perfect pair of snowboard boots.

I bought my current Solomon boots 3 winters ago when I got the rest of my own gear. I already had my K2 board (Luna) so I picked up some boots and K2 bindings to go with it. I tried on some K2 boots for consistency but didn't like how they fit. The Solomon ones that I've got now were the best fit and I was excited to try the quick-lace (my term) system. Instead of lacing my boots up like my hiking boots where you wind the laces around the hooks on either side, all I have to do is yank once on the inner pull to tighten the inner laces, then once on the outer pull to tighten the outer laces. This is awesome for someone like me whose hands and fingers are often numb and semi-useless from the cold. I dimly remember mentioning that the balls of my feet were feeling some pressure with the boots done up in the store but the sales guy explained to me that I would buy some super inserts which would solve all my problems. Liar, liar, pants on fire but I didn't know it at the time...

After buying my gear, I didn't get much chance to do any serious snowboarding trips (unless you count a weekend at Tremblant) until last winter when some friends & I went to Zermatt in Switzerland (see 2008 blogs) for 10 days of riding. Up to that point, I'd had some intermittant discomfort if I spent long periods of time in my boots but all it took was a break in a chalet with them loosened for the duration and I was back to baseline. No big deal really. Not so much the case when in Europe. As mentioned in my Zermatt blogs, some of those runs were a couple of km long!

I never profess to be an awesome snowboarder except maybe in my own mind and even I know that's a delusion. I go for the fun and I'm as good as I am. And before you ask, No. I will not teach you to ride. Nothing personal but I don't teach anyone. You need to go sign up for a lesson with a proper instructor. You will thank me later. My first ever snowboarding experience was at Panorama Mountain Resort in Invermere, BC. I took a 3 hour lesson with an instructor and two little kids (I was in my 20s). I hadn't yet learned to wear a helmet but with painful experience, that came later. My instructor taught me valuable tips and gave me an excellent foundation of learning the basics well. Too bad he didn't teach me how to land jumps on my feet...

As I said before, my primary problem is pressure on the balls of my feet. It's relatively unavoidable, given how feet are designed and used. Toe edging on your board puts your weight on the front of your foot. I tend to do this a lot either out of necessity or habit or fear of catching my back edge and smashing my head on the ground...again. After a while, the pressure on the balls of my feet turns to prickling and burning, kind of like stepping on hot coals I would imagine. Shortly after that, I lose sensation to my toes. To some this might sound wussy but when you're spending 7 days in your boots like I did in Zermatt, it's very uncomfortable. Towards the end of those 7 days, I took to removing my boots and standing ON them (on my heels) in the gondolas, trying to make my poor feet last as long as they possibly could. As soon as we were seated on a chair lift, I'd quickly loosen my boots and try to give my feet a little extra room before the inevitable neccessity of tightening them to ride down. It even came to the point where walking in my running shoes felt like walking on needles.

So far this winter, I've tried on about 7 other pairs of boots. I have a theory that the regular lace system (like for hiking boots) might be what I need, given that it would be much easier to keep the bottom portion over the top of my foot looser while tightening the rest of the boot to keep my foot in it. In my theory, this would not compress the top of my foot so much as to cut off circulation to the blood vessels that run along the top which could be part of my current problem. It would also not push the balls of my feet so hard into the bottom of my boots says I. Strangely enough, there are fewer boots with the regular lace system these days than there are with quick lace so my choices tend to be a bit limited. And those inserts which were supposed to fix all my problems? It's been suggested to me by a boot fitter guy that they might be contributing to the problem by taking up valuable wiggle room in my boot, thus my foot gets compressed that much more. The inserts have a pad on the bottom for the ball of the foot but mine end up cushioning my toes instead because they aren't shaped to my specific foot.

I've tried the double quick-lace system where the top of the boot has independant tightening ability from the bottom of the boot which was sort of what I was trying to do with the regular laces. Too bad the double quick-lace boots were so hideously ugly that I wouldn't want to wear them even if I were a sponsored rider. They also didn't feel spectacularly better. The regular lace boots have been more adjustable than my current ones but again, I still run into the pain problem. I hear stories about people having snowboard boots that are so comfortable that they can wear them all day and then go dancing (ok, I made the last part up out of jealousy). I ask, how can I get boots like that? and I hear, you'll just know when you've found them, which is rather unhelpful. So for now I will keep searching and today at Blue I will try riding without my pretty pink inserts to see if it makes a positive difference.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Warm-Up

My snowboard Luna is currently enjoying her third season of life in my possession. Already she has been with me to Mt Tremblant, Zermatt, Breuil-Cervinia, Geneva (just tagging along), Blue Mountain, and yesterday to Swain in NY. For those who are counting, that's 4 countries including two in Europe and two in North America, two different provinces and soon to be two different states. The only places I've ridden without her would be Big White and Panorama in BC because I was still renting at that point. Karen's horses have passports. Why not my snowboard?

This weekend Luna and I went to NY to do some trial snowboarding in the States. The day started rather inauspiciously when I only got about 4 hours of sleep for various reasons. Then when we got to the hill after breakfast, it was about -8C but quite windy. Not exactly balmy conditions but I told myself I'd survived night snowboarding at Blue when it was -15C before wind chill. Since my body regularly has difficulty thermoregulating itself, I know how to dress for cold and this I did.

After getting the rentals and lesson set up for the other friends, I headed up to the top of the "mountain" to try a few runs with my friend Sean. Our first choice was a black diamond run (black diamond is most difficult at this place) that, strangely enough, ended in the green beginner section. Uh, okay. I'm not sure who designed that one but it seemed strange to me to have a very challenging steep run where one would probably pick up a fair amount of speed end up in a slow flatter area where you have to dodge a variety of struggling and fallen snowboarders and skiiers but whatever.

On our next ascent, we decided we'd try an area to the right that was more sheltered in the trees since we were slowly freezing to death on the glacier slow chair lift. We should have known trouble was brewing. A long flat section preceeded the start of the run. As we shuffled our way across this area, it quickly became evident that we were riding in less than ideal conditions. Both Luna and Sean's board were well waxed and tuned but the snow was akin to trying to traverse peanut butter. Luna adhered fairly well to the snow instead of gliding over it and Sean's board didn't fair much better. Normally I can shuffle Luna for a bit, gain some momentum then put my back foot up on her stomp pad and ride her a ways to get across flat sections more quickly and with less effort. This was not the case.

Finally we got to the start of the run. I strapped my back foot into my binding and headed off. Still a fairly flattish section (a plague to snowboarders or at least to me) and I was a bit worried to see numerous dirt sections. For the record, dirt and snowboarders don't mix well. These I avoided and soon picked up some more speed as the hill started to slope more. Around a tight corner, past more dirt and don't hit those icy patches! While trying to check behind me to ensure I hadn't lost Sean, I was keeping an eye ahead of me for peril and the trail. Suddenly a skiier ahead of me turned off to the left while another went straight to where I could see this run meeting another. Which way to go?

I started checking over to my left to figure out if this was a branch in the trail when the next thing I knew I was violently hurled to the ground and rolling over. OW!!! When I came to a stop, my knees, left wrist and left armpit were in serious pain and I started to cry. Yes, I cry. It really really hurt! Fortunately I knew nothing was broken. With Aspen less than two weeks away, that was my first concern. But bloody hell! Sean stopped to check on me and told me I'd hit an icy section and I must have caught my front edge. Judging by my colourful knees (see above photos) and inability to move my left arm much, I categorize my injuries as follows: bilateral knee contusions, sprained left armpit (my definition) which is probably just muscle strains in my chest and upper arm. This morning I discovered I also injured my right trapezius muscle again so my neck and upper back hurt right now, most likely from my head snapping forward when I fell. Luna's damage: zero

When I was finally able to stop crying and drag myself upright, I slowly made my way to the bottom of the hill where I quickly put myself on the DL and wrote myself a prescription to go get a hot chocolate with a side of Advil. I learned a long time ago that I should always have Advil at hand when I snowboard for days like this or the time I landed a jump on my nose by accident. Sean decided to help Scott learn to snowboard while Brett was still at his ski lesson so I took my time. Unfortunately for all of us, most of the "mountain" was very hard packed snow and numerous sections of ice along with the 20-25km/h winds which made for less than ideal conditions. We had planned to go tubing in the afternoon but after a few more runs by each of us, we packed it in, said our goodbyes and went home. I sure hope my experience in Aspen is much better!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

T minus 15 days and packing

Two weeks from tomorrow I will be leaving for a snowboarding trip in Aspen, CO. Thus far I have nothing packed. Nor do I have a packing list made although I have the intention of coming up with one by the end of this week. I know I'm bringing my snowboard, Luna, but the rest is a bit vague. What exactly is it about packing that makes me want to turn and run?
I travel now and then. Often on my own, many times with family and/or friends. Shouldn't I have some sort of insider knowledge on how to be a good packer? Natch. I can make a packing list.....when I get around to it. Heck, I can even accidently pack the packing list and spend a great deal of time trying to figure out where it disappeared to. But for some reason, the process of assembling clothes (and in this case, gear also) and lodging them in a travel container of some kind just seems so....annoying? boring? Definitely something I can do later....

I've always been a good procrastinator. I elevated it to an art form in my teens, turning a provincial 5 year high school program into 6 for me. Many a late night I had in college making endless cups of tea and chatting on MSN while furiously hoping my papers would write themselves while I slept for a few hours. One would think with all the stress this procrastinating behaviour brings about that I would finally learn to buckle down and get it done sooner rather than later but sadly, that is rarely the case.

People keep asking me if I'm excited about my impending trip yet. In a way, yes I am. On the other hand, I'm rather preoccupied with other stuff right now. If my trip last year is any indicator, I finally became truly excited about our journey to Zermatt when we stepped off the plane in Geneva. Using this as a potential forecast for this trip, I should be truly excited when I roll into Denver the night before reaching Aspen. This year I will be snowboarding again but in addition to riding Luna (my all around board), I'll get a chance to try out some carving boards. This brings a little anxiety along with the excitement.

p.s. my first two paragraphs seem destined to roll themselves into one no matter what I do. my apologies for the difficulty in reading this may present.