Ask Josh: October 1998

Ask Dr. Flake

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Dear Josh, Though my 240-pound ski buddy is more big and strong than fat, he can’t match my 150-pound athleticism and usually trails me on the slopes. But on straight runouts, even if I’m in a tuck and carrying more speed to begin with, he whizzes by me. He skis on 204’s and I ski on 188’s. Can you explain this?
Dale Friedkin
Eugene, Oregon

Let’s be brutally honest. You are proud of your slim figure, and it drives you crazy that your hefty pal blows past you like you’re standing still. It turns out it’s not his weight that makes him faster, but the length of his skis. The friction caused by skis sliding on snow, I’m told by a physicist at the University of Colorado, melts snow crystals. The meltwater then lubricates the passage of the skis over the snow. And since a longer ski spends more time sliding over each snow crystal, it produces more lubricating meltwater and thus is able to go a little faster. If all this sounds slightly bogus, don’t worry, it sounded bogus to me, too. But neither of us is a physicist (at least I’m not), so who are we to determine the bogusitude of such basic mechanics? If this snowmelt reasoning is correct, though, the advantages of longer skis would be reduced in warm, wet snow and increased in cold. Of course, your buddy may also wax his skis, but that’s a different question and a different answer.

What are the similarities and differences between chutes and couloirs? If there are differences, are they geological or solely left up to the discretion of each ski area?
Howard Friedman
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In the ski world, there is no difference in denotation-the terms could accurately be used interchangeably. Both describe a narrow, often rock-lined passage on the side of a mountain down which things fall-water, rocks, timber, skiers. There are, however, significant connotative differences, especially in America. Couloir sounds to the Yankee ear more substantial and imposing than chute, which is but an H away from being cute. When asked about this, a patroller at Jackson Hole (where they have both chutes and couloirs) at first said they were the same and then decided that couloirs were probably tougher. But couloir seems to have a certain Haute-Savoie je ne sais quoi that suggests significant length, whereas a chute could be a mere 50 vertical feet. Many skiers mistakenly believe that if they can pronounce couloir correctly (say “cool wahr”) they can ski one. Unfortunately, most of them are wrong. An even greater number cannot pronounce couloir correctly but think they can ski one anyway. By and large these people are wrong, too, and end up at the bottom of the mountain discussing the similarities and differences between bruise, contusion, and subdural hematoma.

Last year I converted to K2 Fours. They are fantastic, but I find that I now have a tendency to cross my tips in the bumps. Given the shortness of the ski, I thought this wouldn’t be a problem. Is it the ski, the tune, or me?
Randy Herman
Portland, Oregon

It’s you, babe. The likelihood that your skis are crossing independently of your technique is slim. Fact is, if your weight is predominately on your outside ski with almost none on your inside ski, you’d have to try to cross your skis. Put too much weight on your inside ski, and you’re likely to cross your tips. Before you get all huffy and defensive, you may as well know that I’m not the greatest skier in the world either, and yes, it is pretty damn easy for me to sit here in the middle of June dispensing advice. As for the tune, super-sidecut skis are more sensitive to edge preparation than their less-curvy brethren, but if they were mistuned enough to make you cross your tips, I doubt you’d be wondering if the problem was caused by the tune. You’d know.

I plan to get a dog in the near future and was wondering if any resorts have kennels nearby. Are there pet-friendly ski resorts?
Heather Kaplan<
via the Internet

Heartwarming movie scenes of bounding huskies in powdery mogul fields notwithstanding, ski areas don’t actually let you ski with your dog. Or cat. Or stoat. Or any animal for that matter. But why do you need a kennel for your dog-to-be? Why not stay at a place that allows you to bring a pet-and then just pop back to walk him or her at lunchtime? (Taos, Squaw, Mammoth, Aspen, Steamboat, and Killington all have hotels that don’t fear Fido). If you’re dead set on kenneling the poor creature, you could try calling a ski-town vet, who would probably know where the nearest decent kennel is, or you could call the American Boarding Kennel Association (719-591-1113), whose members have to meet certain standards, and ask for the name of a kennel in the area where you’ll be skiing.