Ski equipment I have killed

I ski a lot, very hard, very fast. Not surprisingly, this takes its toll on equipment, and I thought I’d make a list of my kit that has met an untimely end.

  • Graves slalom skis: severely bent about 30cm from the tip.
  • Dynastar Vertical bump skis: tore out both rear bindings; discovered at the very highest point of Val Thorens…
  • Dynastar X9 skis: delaminated base, tore out edge on a rock.
  • Dynafit 3F race boots: Smashed rear shock absorber mechanism, rendering them unusable.
  • Nordica 990 boots: red rear-entry monsters! Smashed the retention flange in an awkward landing; boot cuff could fold flat backwards!
  • Salomon 957 composite bindings: heel piece exploded into little bits while skiing bumps.
  • Volant Chubb Ti skis: broke off tip on one ski, delaminated whole of the other one.
  • K2 Apache Recon skis: Broke tip, pulled out rear binding. These were terrible skis.
  • Diamir Fritschi Freeride bindings: not so much a breakage as exposing a design flaw; never land a jump on a traverse: the toe retention is not good enough and the boot will twist out. A second problem is that the heel can release if a ski is flexed very hard, e.g. crossing a ditch; This flaw was fixed in later models.
  • Diamir Fritschi Freeride bindings: Sheared screw holding rear binding onto the main tube.
  • Rossignol Scratch BC skis: The first skis I got into “extreme carving” on. They couldn’t take it: I rotated the edges out of the ski structure on both skis.
  • Fischer RC4 FIS SL skis: rotated the edges out through the base.
  • Salomon 997 bindings: Barrel of toe piece split, provoking early release at higher DIN settings: cost me a broken thumb.
  • Volkl AC50 Unlimited skis: I loved these skis, but I rotated the edges out through the base.
  • Dynastar Cham 97 skis: rotated the edges out through the base (seeing a pattern here!)
  • Salomon Quest Pro 130 boots: split shell

Any ski manufacturers that want to know how strong their kit is, do get in touch and I’ll try my best to break it for you.

Ski stuff that is still alive despite my best efforts

  • ICE lightning carbon ski poles: These are awesome. Despite being carbon, they’re not light, but they are very stiff and very strong. Bought in Vail in 1998, still dead straight after 500+ ski days.
  • I never managed to kill my Salomon SX92E ski boots, but I did try very hard.

Tested to destruction: Salomon Quest Pro 130 Ski Boots

My previous ski boots were 2012 Dalbello Il Moro Ts. I loved these boots, but they were a bit big, the liners were getting packed out with age, and they were too narrow across the forefoot. I also wanted something that I could use for touring.

After much research on hybrid boots, I was attracted by Salamon’s Quest range. I picked up a pair of 2016 Quest Pro 130s, Salomon’s top-of-the-range hybrid freeride boot, at the end of the 2015/2016 ski season, and first skied on them at the start of the 2016/2017 season, so they are just coming up for the end of their third season.

Hybrid boots are a compromise, but I wasn’t quite ready for how much of a compromise they were.

Construction

The shells are made of Salomon’s “Custom Shell” plastic that is thermoformable – I was keen to make use of this to make sufficient space for my wide feet. The liners are Salomon’s high-end “My Custom Fit Race” model, which are mostly thermoformable, though not quite in Intuition territory. The net result is a boot that can be thermoformed with the liners in, which is a recipe for a good fit. That said, I’ve still found that they are a little tight across the forefoot, despite having that area punched out to some extent when I first got them fitted. I got moulded foot beds from a sports doctor in Chamonix that specialises in boot fitting, and they have been great.

The boot has 3 clips, which are well designed, with long levers to help do them up tight, and a very chunky booster strap, which makes up for the lack of a fourth clip to some extent. The middle clip has two different mounting positions, and I found the rear one made for much better fit and heel retention.

The traditional overlap design means that they are pretty difficult to get on and off. This is partly a result of the thicker plastic which is needed to get the 130 flex rating, but makes it harder to pull them open enough. This is one things Dalbello’s “Cabrio” design is plainly better at, and a different planet to my old Salomon SX92s, which I could put on do up perfectly in under 3 sec!

One big win for these boots is the weight – at 1.4Kg each, they are very light for high-performance piste boots, though still relatively heavy for touring.

On-piste performance

These boots have a very stiff 130 flex, which I’m fine with (I’m a very fast, aggressive skier), but they’re also very upright, and the two combined makes it difficult to get your weight forward far enough, and you have to fight the flex to bend the boot sufficiently; Maybe I just need to put on some weight! I found it difficult to get them tight enough to give full-on control without making my feet ache or go numb, but generally they were ok, though overall not a patch on my old Dalbellos. The upright stance also makes it harder to get low enough at very high speeds, resulting in your weight being too far back, which reduces control and can be quite scary! I think a softer flex, perhaps 110 or 120, would have worked better for me for this kind of boot as I like to have a lot of forward lean, but the upright stance is a fairly necessary part of the hybrid design compromise.

Touring performance

I’m not into ultra-lightweight or long-distance touring – I’m usually doing the up for the down, rather than to get somewhere, so weight isn’t a big concern, for either my skis or boots, but the light weight of these boots was a definite plus anyway. My touring skis are Wedze Samurais (178/99) with Tyrolia Adrenaline bindings. They are not bad – a bit flappy on the down, but ok on the up, great in soft snow, and the bindings are very solid and reliable (unlike my experiences with Diamir Fritschi Freerides, which I’ve broken 3 different ways). The boots have a walk mode, which is vital, and you can undo the top clip and strap to give maximum movement, and there’s an oversized pivot to keep the cuff laterally stiff while allowing easy fore & aft motion. The range of motion really isn’t quite enough though, and I found it resulted in quite an uncomfortable walking motion. When undone, the top clip sticks out and gets in the way of trouser legs. Despite the moulded liners and multiple precautions, I got terrible blisters on the sides of my heel on both feet – my first 2-hour outing was so bad that I ended up at the hospital needing antibiotics, and could barely walk, let alone ski, for a week! I have never had a pair of touring boots that didn’t give me blisters, so either I’ve always had the wrong boots, or my feet are weird. Overall I think I could live with the limited range of movement for tours of < 4 hours, but the blister thing was a showstopper. This has really prevented me from doing much touring at all, which is a shame as that’s 50% of the reason for having hybrid boots in the first place.

She canna take any more, Captain!

In the middle of the 2018-2019 season, I noticed that the right boot had developed a crack in the shell, right over the top of the foot in the overlap area.

The crack of doom

This is at exactly the point where an overlap boot has the most stress, but there is no concession to that in the design, and the plastic tapers to a thin flange that is relatively easy to tear. Because this is an integral part of the lower “clog” part of the boot, this is fatal and there’s no way to repair it. Of course this happened outside the 2 year guarantee period. I contacted Salomon, who said “our boots have a 2 year guarantee”, into which read the subtext “…because they disintegrate after that”. As a result, the right boot has a noticeably softer backwards flex which directly affects on-piste performance, and it’s entirely possible that the boot could fail catastrophically at some point. The crack has progressed rather too far for preventative measures (such as drilling a hole to stop it spreading further) to help much, so these will have to head to the bin and I’ll need to shell out for some new boots for next season; I won’t be buying Salomons.

WordPress Rewrites without .htaccess

It’s been known for many years that apache’s AllowOverride .htaccess files incur a performance hit, as every node on the path from the location hit to the document root need to be checked for .htaccess files and parsed. I’ve mostly avoided the whole issue by hosting on nginx instead, but I recently needed to host WP on Apache again and ran into this issue. Many places offer a snippet like this for rewrites from a .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^index.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^.*$ /index.php [NC,L]

This says:

  • If the request is for index.php, serve it as is.
  • If the request is for a file or folder that does not exist, serve index.php instead.
  • Implicitly, if the request is for a file or directory that does exist, serve that.

The problem is that while this will work in a .htaccess file, it won’t work in main apache config because REQUEST_FILENAME will just be a filename, not a whole path, so it’s unlikely to match. The solution to this is to prepend the document root:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^index.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{DOCUMENT_ROOT}%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{DOCUMENT_ROOT}%{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule ^.*$ /index.php [NC,L]

This took me a silly amount of time to solve. I found the critical info in this post, but I thought I’d clarify it here. HTH!

Wifi disappointment: Ubiquiti’s AC-Lite access point

My broadband provider’s (free.fr) built-in wifi is pretty dismal – despite having a reasonably solid 26Mbit VDSL connection, my iPhone will often time out even when in the same room, and streaming video from another computer through 1 plasterboard wall often glitches, while an Ethernet connection works fine. Free’s admin software has a neat little channel scanner, and I can see that my network is the only one using these channels, so it’s not an interference problem, and my phone has no speed problems on other wifi networks I use. So I decided to spring for a new access point that would support 5GHz bands, to see if that would work better, and chose the AC-Lite model from the highly recommended Ubiquiti Networks.

I wasn’t sure if my router supported PoE, so I plugged in the AC-lite to see if would show any signs of life, but no lights came on – but none did. So I plugged in the PoE injector and plugged it in again – but still no signs of life! I replugged the PoE injector and checked the docs to ensure I had the ports connected the right way round, but still nothing. Leaving it plugged in, I started searching Ubiquiti’s support docs, but after a few minutes noticed that the lights had come on on the access point. A further test reveals that it takes quite a long time for anything to show up – it’s just slow.

While doing that, I needed to sign up for Ubiquiti’s support site at help.ubnt.com, so I did the whole email sign-up dance. I also gathered form the “Quick Start” guide that I needed to install a local copy of their management application, UniFi. So I grabbed the latest macOS version (5.6.22, at the time) and installed that. On running it, it complained it couldn’t run because “Port 8080 is used by other programs”. That is true – I run nginx on port 8080 with a port mapping from port 80 so I can run it unprivileged. After some rummaging through the help site, it tells me I need to edit the “system.properties” file and change the default port. I then need to find the system properties file. Eventually I find a reference that says it’s inside the UniFi app bundle, in UniFi.app/Contents/Resources/data, however, it’s not there. Later on I find a comment on someone else’s identical question revealing that this file is only created after you’ve run it successfully for the first time – so we have a stupid chicken & egg situation – you can only avoid a port clash by not having a port clash. So I stop nginx, relaunch UniFi, and sure enough, the system.properties file appears, so I can then quit, edit the settings and relaunch. This can’t be that unusual (given the numerous support questions asking it), and being able to set ports from the launcher would seem a basic thing to allow.

Now it lets me click the “Launch a browser to manage the network” button, which takes me to a browser page filled with warnings about invalid security settings – browsers are now much pickier about such things – and after clicking through all the warnings, it ultimately requires me to provide an admin override to allow the use of a self-signed certificate. Not pretty. It then tells me Safari isn’t supported. Sigh. So I switch to Chrome, and go through the whole set of security warnings again. None of this is mentioned in the quick start guide. I know what all this means – but I suspect many would not.

“At last”, I think, “I can get on with configuring this thing”. Fat chance. It takes me through a config wizard. As part of this it asks me to enter my login details for the Ubiquiti support site for its “cloud integration”. However, the login that I created earlier doesn’t work – after much retrying and checking, it turns out that I have to create a new account, because, obviously, help.ubnt.com and account.ubnt.com are completely different and unrelated sites ?. I noticed that the site supports 2FA, so I enabled that, though I also noticed that it does not provide any backup keys, so if you lose your authenticator (e.g. in the way that google authenticator does occasionally), you’re screwed.

Finally I get to log in, where I’m greeted with lots of greyed out areas and warnings saying “UniFi Security Gateway Required”, and “DPI data is missing”. Just what I wanted to see on my first login to this shiny new product. Requiring some other device is fine, but it doesn’t need to be so prominent that it looks like there’s something wrong.

After all that, I got everything connected. My iPhone connects over 5G, and so far it seems to be free of the network issues that led me in this direction to start with, so it worked out in the end – but it could so easily have been so much better.