The world of slalom water-skiing is a vast one when it comes to choosing the most high performance boots. The most regular question I get asked about bindings is “should I use a hard-shell or a rubber water ski binding?” The answer to this question is that you should use what you feel comfortable with. However determining this is easier said than done!
Rubber Water Ski Boot (Binding)
I started off my water-skiing life with a traditional rubber binding. This binding was perfectly suitable for learning how to perform deep-water starts, crossing the wake from side to side and water skiing comfortably on a slalom ski in a recreational environment, with no buoys to worry about.
When I was introduced to the slalom course, I swapped my traditional rubber binding for a HO Animal Boot (Binding). This boot supported me through learning the course and it was ridiculously comfortable! The binding still continued to support me when I increased the speed at which I was being towed through the course. By the end of last season, when I was still using the HO Animal Boot, it was carrying me through the course at a confident 36mph. The Animal Boot is a very comfortable binding because it’s not overly tight; however despite this the boot still gives excellent support around the ankle and heel of the foot – due to the insole of the boot. Over time the insole of the boot moulds to the contours of your foot, giving you the same feeling through the boot every time. Due to the lacing system on the HO Animal Boot, it is quick and easy to slip on and off which is a great asset, especially if you’re itching to get in or out on the water! Just a simple squirt of some boot slime and you’ll slip straight in there!
Hard-Shell Water Ski Boot
As much as I loved the HO Animal Boot, I decided to give the hard-shell option a whirl. The whole system was quite complex to set up once the releasing mechanism was bolted onto the ski. However, despite racking my brain for around two hours figuring out how it worked, I finally sorted it and found myself standing on the dock clutching my handle ready to water ski. I won’t go into all the details of that first set with the hard-shell because it would be rather embarrassing; but I will say I spent more time in the water than on top of it!
Despite this I persevered with the hard-shell. It is very different from the Animal, primarily because to hard-shell has a more snug-fit around the foot due to the plastic outer shell. This has often given me an aching sensation in my foot if I have over tightened the binding. However if the hard-shell is correctly tightened , this isn’t such a problem. Personally, I find the hard-shell a confidence-inspiring boot, allowing me to attack the wakes that little bit more.
Overall both the HO Animal Boot and the hard-shell are very good bindings. However there is a huge difference in price. Considering the Animal provides me with great performance at those higher speeds and shorter rope lengths, just like the hard-shell, it certainly the cheaper option. This is often found with most rubber water ski boots compared to the hard-shells.
When it comes to a pair of sunglasses that are suitable for both lifestyle and active wear, Oakley have got it right. The Oakley Crossrange sunglasses aren’t a hybrid. Theses shades come with two sets of nose pads and temples, or arms (the bit that extends over the ear to help keep the sunglasses in place), to suit the conditions/mood you are wearing them in!
Oakley has a video of some cheeky hipsters, including Chas Christiansen, riding bicycles to show the versatility of these sunglasses, however, I chose to wear them:
Lifestyle – attending a Game and Country Fair
Active – walking in the Derbyshire Peak District
The lifestyle nose pad and temples were extremely comfortable; and made the shades easy to take off and put back on, as you walked in and out of marquees and the sun. Certainly did the job, and didn’t look out of place –hipster!
You immediately felt the active nose pad and temples get into position, when putting them on, giving you confidence that they would not be slipping out of place; thanks to the grippy nose pads and earsocks. These are made from Oakley’s ‘Unobtanium’; a patented Oakley material that becomes tacky when wet/or you sweat and holds the frame in perfect optical alignment.
OK walking in the Peak District may not be classed as extreme, but we were keeping up a healthy pace, along undulating terrain (including a bit of scrambling). It was a warm day, so perspiration was building up, yet the sunglasses did not move. Once again extremely comfortable and I was confident they were not going to fall off!
The Crossrange comes in three styles: the Crossrange, Crossrange XL, and the Crossrange R (coming soon). All are made to Oakley’s exceptionally high standards, and seeing-is-believing with these ‘High Definition Optics’. The Crossrange XL, as its name implies is for a larger face, with a lens height of 46.7mm; compared to 46.1mm and 43mm for the Crossrange R and Crossrange. The temples and bridge are identical on all three: 137mm and 17mm respectively.
The mechanism to swap the nose pads or temples is very simple to use, yet secure, but not designed to be change mid-activity!
Oakley is moving towards Prizm lenses in all their sunglasses, following the success of Prizm in goggles. The lenses are designed for different environment such as: Everyday, Sport – Road, Golf, Trail, Deep Water, Snow etc.
However, as I found, although designed for a particular environment they are equally effective outside of that environment. Back to my stroll around a Country Fair and walk in the Peak District; the Prizm Sapphire Snow lenses performed outstandingly without a flake of snow in sight! Obviously I will update this blog once I have experienced them in the snow; but for now, as ever, Oakley have designed another excellent pair of sunglasses….
Now these may just look like normal t-shirts to you, however there is an individual story behind each one, the O’Neill Heritage T-Shirt Collection by Jack O’Neill. Back in the fifties O’Neill started up as a small surf shop. Now it’s thriving more than ever and ready to include you in the journey; inside each t-shirt is the story behind the picture on the front of the t-shirt! Welcome to the world of Jack O’Neill……
O’Neill Heritage T-Shirts
The 1950’s t-shirt features a picture of the Surf Shop which was located behind the fence, indicated by the large piece of driftwood written on by Jack and his surfer friends. This is one of the earliest photographs of the surf shop when it first opened in 1952.
The 60’s t-shirt is made from a collection of photographs from the O’Neill Heritage archive. This particular collage of photos is called ‘First Name in the Water’ and is inspired by the old surf movie posters.
Two years ago, Tim Davies and I started the standard Haute Route (a high Alpine ski tour linking Chamonix and Zermatt) with Andy Cowan who 2 days in had to pull out due to injury. We managed to get as far as the Valsorey Hut where Tim developed appendicitis and had to be air lifted by helicopter and have an emergency operation; which left me on my own and having to ski back down over the glacier and crevasses by myself, which was quite interesting. The following year we did a few routes around the Imperial Haute Route but always planned to come back and have a go at the Imperial Haute Route proper.
Imperial Haute Route (Grand Lui Variation)
So after saying good-bye to the Oakham Lower School ski trip I met up with Tim and started to sort kit, huts, transport, etc. Our weather forecast for the week ahead was good and so two old men set out on a journey from Chamonix to Zermatt via La Fouly. The Integral Haute Route is two days longer than the standard routes, has more high gain and loss, and does not require you to book a taxi so is more of a pure journey.
We knew that the start was going to be a bit of a ‘bun fight’, as we had to do hand to hand combat with the queues at the Grand Montets Cable-Car Station. This is always a bottleneck and means a slow start wedged in with huge crowds. Luckily, the cable-car was running smoothly and after a couple of hours, we found ourselves deposited at the top station ready to go! Avalanche transceivers checked and harnesses on we set off across the Argentiere Glacier towards the Col du Chardonnet (3323m). We travelled quite quickly deand managed to overtake many guided groups, which meant that when we arrived at the Col there were only a few people, and groups in front of us. As there was a fixed rope already in place and we were a small team, Tim managed to persuade the French to allow us to jump the que, which was a great result. Once down we set off for the Trient Hut, but first had a great view of our route for early the next day whilst having a late lunch. Climbing the Fenetre de Saliena (3261m) had us skiing down the Trient Glacier towards our evening stop. The hut is well positioned with great views and is a mix of old and new even if the guardian is a little less than welcoming.
The standard route goes down to Champex where you get a bus or taxi to Bourg St. Pierre, however, we chose to ski over the Grand Lui to La Fouly which would mean we could ski/walk the whole route making it a little more challenging, purer and two day’s longer. We left the Trient and skied some excellent snow with no one else anywhere to be seen. It was great to be in these high mountains and have the place to ourselves. The Col de Saleina (3419m) was easy enough to get over and then followed some more fantastic snow, which started to change as we neared the valley to heavy slush, which made skiing a little more challenging. Scrabbling through some loose rocks and boulders gave access to the final stretch down to La Fouly and the Auberge des Glaciers. I had been through here a few years previously when doing the Tour De Mont Blanc with family and friends and remembered it as being very relaxing. The hotel was great and we had the dormitory to ourselves so we managed to spread out and sort kit. Being in a valley meant that the meal was exceptional in quality and value for money plus we had showers.
Day 3 was going to be quite a hard day but relatively short and would finish at the Plan de Jeu Hut which Tim assured me would be excellent, which it was. Walking along the road, we arrived at some steep verglas slopes with a huge amount of old avalanche debris that had to be picked though and we eventually passed the Lacs de Fenetre and climbed up to the Fenetre de Ferret were we saw our first people. The ski down to the road and on to the Great St Bernard Monastery was on exceptional snow and left both of us smiling from ear to ear as did the excellent coffee and cakes we devoured at the hospice. The Plan de Jeu is brilliant with smiling, happy/welcoming guardians, who love country & western music, great views and sound advice. Certainly worth a stop next year for a bit of day tour action with my wife. I might even try to get over later in the year for their beer festival! The beer, food and company made for a very memorable evening and again no one else was staying so we had the place to ourselves.
Travelling onwards to the Valsorey Hut (3037m) in wall to wall sunshine with 1600 metres of up and a good amount of downhill action was something I was looking forward to as it would take us to our high point of two years previous and mean we were well on our way. Once again the skiing was exceptional and certainly left us wanting more, however, the climb that followed from the valley floor to the hut was seriously hard in the full glare of the sun.
The start of the day was a little on the messy side as I had a bad case of the squits; which is not good when you are climbing steep iced slopes of around 50 degrees with skis strapped to your back. The wind was quite strong which made everything that little more exciting especially going to the toilet! We had no issues route finding and the snow conditions continued to be great. When we arrived at the Chanrion Hut I found that several people had been hit with the same bug, one having to be air-lifted off and others turning back. It is amazing how something so simple as a stomach upset or a broken binding could put an end to an expedition.
The Chanrion Hut was much nicer, the guardian very welcoming and interested in our well-being which was nice. Following a relatively good night’s sleep, we faced another long day with lots of UP! Climbing the Pigne d’Arrolla (3796m) was cold and windy and seemed to go on forever. However, having recovered from my illness and in good weather we climbed the last few metres to the summit to take the obligatory photos before heading down to the Vignettes Hut, which would be our final hut of the trip. Now that all of the various Haute Routes variants had joined, the route was a mass of people and the hut was not much better although still very welcoming.
With the final day looming we got our heads down and in the morning managed to be the first party out of the hut and to the first Col. The weather was forecast to change with much colder weather on its way. The clouds rolled in to make route finding quite challenging at times but this never detracted from the enjoyment of completing this amazing journey across the high Alps. Our final ski descent from the final Col was hard with man-eating moguls made of solid ice spread around big crevasses on steep slopes. The leg in to Zermatt was slow, as the snow had turned to slush so our skis having little in the way of wax on them tended to stick.
All in all this was a great seven-day tour with great company in amazing surroundings with some challenging descents and route finding. We had the mountains to ourselves until the Pigne d’Arolla where we joined the standard route. I would recommend the Integral Haute Route to anyone that wants a challenge. Our final photo’s where taken outside the Monta Rosa Hotel having skied into Zermatt then walked through the narrow streets towards the train station and our train back over the mountains to Chamonix looking forward to a good shower, meal and a few beers to celebrate.