Black Cats - what lovely people

I'm just back from a week of snowboarding in Tignes in the French Alps. This was my first snowboarding holiday where I really felt I was not a beginner. I pushed myself and my equipment until the cracks started to show and then tried to solve the problems that I found. It was a bumpy process (in at least two senses.)

If you read my last post about snowboarding then you know about my experiences as a beginner. This time round, I had some experience under my belt and was ready to attack some more ambitious (for me) runs.

Crash!

I ran the motorway-wide red called "Double M" in Tignes. In the steepest part of the piste I was doing skidded turns, but for most of the run I was cruising along and carving. That meant that I got up to speeds significantly faster than I had before.

I've always found shallow slopes a bit tricky. I assumed this was because I'm usually travelling slowly on them and don't have the opportunity to lean in to the turns. When I hit the flat stretch at the end of Double M I was going as fast as I'd ever gone and, right at that moment, I found out that leaning in to my turns wasn't the solution. I tried switching edges but it felt like trying to put an old VW camper in to gear: Far too much wiggle room. I wiped out spectacularly.

Seeking help

After riding Double M again and getting some local advice, I took my board and myself to Black Cats in Val Claret. I discussed what was going on and (making a big mistake) said that I found there was big dead-zone while trying to switch from heel to toe edge at speed. The guy who served me worked way in to his lunch hour in order to fit me with the right pair of boots. I left with a very nice looking pair of Nikes that were much stiffer than my Salomon Savage boots and seemed to fit more snuggly at the sides of my skinny feet.

I was really buzzed about the new boots and headed of to Double M again. Oh boy. After running that piste twice, I realised that I was completely wrong in my diagnosis of what was happening. I had loads of left-to-right movement in my heels. When I was leaning hard in to a turn on the flat, it actually felt like my front leg wanted to snap to the side and, with the rim of the boot acting as a fulcrum, I got some pretty scary sensations in my knee.

I found that my old Salomon Savage boots actually had less "float" room than the new boots.

Returning prodigal

I went back to Black Cats. Needless to say, I was somewhat embarrassed on my return. Now that I had a better idea of what the problem was, I was very aware that I'd been asking about the wrong things.

The really helpful (different) shop assistant must have gone through a big chunk of their catalogue of boots. I tried on 8 or 9 pairs. Now that I knew to test for left-to-right movement at my heel, I strapped each boot in to a board in order to see how much movement I got. That varied from "some" to "a lot". Nothing was significantly better than my old boots.

Adding insult to injury, I then noticed that I'd injured my hand and had bled on at least one pair of new white laces as I was tightening up a boot. Already dispirited by my lack of success and the amount of shop time (and non-shop time) I'd taken up, I now wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.

On reflection

I left Black Cats with a full refund in my pocket and some newly acquired knowledge in my head about board-binding-boot stiffness and matching like-for-like. They were extremely nice to me and I would unhesitatingly recommend them.

As you can imagine, as soon as I got home I started researching boots that might actually fit my skinny ankles. It sounds like there are bits of tech specifically designed to lock down the heel. (J bars and internal harnesses and possibly other things.) Given the freakiness of my feet, I think I need to find the UK snowboard store with the biggest range of boots and visit them while their stock is at its peak. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

Justin Hellings

I'm a geek in a world that insists on being irrational and a greenie in a society that insists on speeding towards its own destruction. There's some work to be done here. Nah, let's go snowboard. Woo!



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