Ask Josh - January 2000

Ask Dr. Flake

dear josh,
Why do expert skiers always wear backpacks but never use them?
via the Internet

I am amazed that so few people know about the whole backpack thing. The backpack is the holy garment of the unattainable. The backpacked ones represent all that is most accomplished on the hill. Through their clean living and fine example, we are urged on to emulation. O most holy of skiers. Most hortatory of skiers. Most reverend and capable of skiers. That thou skiest whilst thou art enbackpackt impresseth us so! What carriest thou in thy mysterious reticules of gnosis? We know not the meaning of this bag with zippers and Cordura straps and other stuff. What puttest thou there that thou mayst have it appear so plump, like unto several ripe pomegranates? Carriest thou crampons, Pieps, shovel, and rope that thou mayst chide the gods with thy brazen, foolhardy bravery in mountainous realms? As it has been written, mortals, just because an expert skier useth not a backpack in our presence in such a manner that we fully appreciateth its purpose meanest not that such a backpack is without utility.

What is the "funicular" I've seen on European trail maps? I also heard that a resort in California installed something called a "pulse lift." What is that? And what is the difference between a tram and a gondola?
Anthony Carroll
Seattle, Washington

You may not know this, but all of your questions are related. In order to answer the first, we have to answer the last, and therein lies the answer to the second. Trams and gondolas differ in significant mechanical and operational ways. A gondola is much like a detachable chairlift, but with enclosed cabins. The cars ride around on a loop of cable, up the mountain, around a bullwheel, and then down the mountain, around another bullwheel, back up, and so on. A tram, on the other hand, typically has two large cabins, fixed to opposite ends of the cable loop, that take turns shuttling up and down the mountain, the cable reversing direction for each trip. When one cabin is going up, the other is going down; when one is in the base station, the other is at the summit. A pulse lift is a bunch of gondola cars clamped to the cable close together, behaving like a tram. One cluster of cabins goes up while another is going down. A funicular (we finally get to the funicular) is a pair of cable cars on separate, parallel tracks on the ground. They're tramlike in that they swap places, one going up as the other's going down. Only they're not tram cars, they're trains.

My wife just purchased new skis and bindings. We were impressed with the lightness of the skis but unhappy with how heavy the bindings are. Does binding weight matter in terms of leg fatigue?
F. Ray Nickel
Ventura, California

What gives, buddy? You're sitting at home writing to a stranger about your wife's leg fatigue relative to binding weight, and your wife is where? Watching Touched by an Angel? Shopping? Out with a "friend"? What's she doing that's so important she can't ask her own techno-twit questions? I'm probably the biggest twit around, and I manage to ask my own questions. Sheesh. Anyway, yes, all things being equal (same skis, same boots) a heavier binding would cause more leg fatigue than a lighter one would. In fact, even though the difference in weight may seem negligible (a few grams, a few ounces), the cumulative difference in the amount of work your legs do during the thousands of turns and ski-liftings you perform in the course of a day could end up being significant. But in the end, it's not clear that you'd notice, because what would most likely be making the binding heavier (performance enhancers, dampeners, lifters, etc.) would probably in fact be improving the efficiency of your skiing, thus reducing leg fatigue. Of course, there are probably some bindings out there that are just plain heavier than others in the same class. But as your wife would no dooubt tell you if you'd just get off the damn computer, it's not how heavy your binding is, it's what you do with it that counts.

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