Ask Josh: September 1998

Ask Dr. Flake

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Dear Josh, Other than carrying a pair of wire cutters, how does one easily get a freakin’ lift ticket off of one’s jacket?
L.K. Walker
Amarillo, Texas

With freakin’ finesse, that’s how. Stop your tuggin’ and pullin’ and hollerin’ and carryin’ on and listen up. When it’s time to remove the ticket, gently rotate one of the pointy ends of the wicket up through the ticket material. It will pop right through, enabling you to tear the wire cleanly from the ticket. It works for me. And with a less confrontational attitude, it should work for you.

Working in your favor are modern lift ticket materials, which have been designed to tear more easily than the tough Tyvek lift tickets popular five or so years ago. Tyvek was more durable than the paper that preceded it, but was so durable that it could be removed, altered, and put back on the wicket by the wicked. The new tickets, by contrast, are deliberately designed to tear if you try to remove them from the wicket, an attempt to thwart those who would nefariously attempt to purloin lift services.

I heard that the number of knee injuries went up dramatically in the first year of widespread super-sidecut ski use. Is this true, and how did the accidents occur?
Crit Shallow
Hartland, Vermont

This is a question the ski manufacturers have been avoiding for three years. They don’t even want to be caught thinking about this subject, let alone commenting on it, for fear of litigants sans ligaments. Fact is, we don’t know enough yet to be making broad generalizations. But here’s the little we do know so far: Overall, according to one study, the rate of knee injuries for skiers on shaped skis was slightly higher than that for the population at large.

However, the rate of injuries for beginners (typically the skiers most likely to do to their knees what Scipio Africanus did to Carthage) was lower than expected, while that for intermediate and expert skiers on super-sidecut skis was higher. Why? Maybe because at the ski area where the study was done, beginners got lessons with their rental packages and advanced skiers didn’t. Or maybe because more experienced skiers thought they were hot stuff on their cool new skis but weren’t quite as hot as their new stuff.

I have heard of some ski resorts installing a new kind of chairlift that caters to those of us who fear heights but love to ski. Do you know of a ski area with either fully enclosed chairs or ones not so high off the ground?
Charlie Olson
Madison, Wisconsin

You heard wrong, mon frère. Most chairlifts are relatively high off the ground for good reason: The cable sags between support towers, and if you make the towers short, the cable will drag on the ground (or through the snow). Of course, putting the towers closer together would reduce sag, but at $20,000 a pop, ski areas don’t want to put up more towers than they have to. A chair low enough so that it would be acceptable to the acrophobe would require an expensively large number of towers. No, you are better off seeking surface lifts. Or, better yet, if you’re really scared of heights, look for subsurface lifts.

Several European resorts have underground funiculars-there’s the Sunneggabahn at Zermatt and the Metro Alpin at Saas Fee. Zermatt also has a cog railway up to the Gornergrat, and most European resorts have tons of T-bars for the faint of heart. As for fully enclosed chairs, I don’t mean to mess with your head, but why aren’t you afraid of them? In an open chair you’ve at least got a fighting chance if it derails; in an enclosed one, you’d be like a coupla pomodori pelati in a free-falling jam jar.

How long would it take to make my own pair of skis?
Patchett Culbertson
Topsfield, Massachusetts

If you don’t know how long it would take to build a pair of skis, I have no choice but to assume you also lack an answer to an even more basic question: How do you make a paair of skis in the first place? Because if you knew how to build a pair of skis, you’d probably have a pretty decent idea of how long it would take you. My guess is that for you it would take a really long time. If you’re making laminated skis and you have all the right equipment-huge presses and carefully calibrated molds, etc.-and actually know what you’re doing, it will take you six hours, maybe.

It takes K2 around 45 minutes to make a pair of skis, but then again they have a factory and turn out thousands of skis a year. Of course, you could just use a few vices and a lot of glue, but without the pressure and heat generated by massive and costly equipment, the glue wouldn’t bond properly, and your skis would likely disintegrate after a few runs. Everyone’s time is worth something, and chances are you’ll come out ahead paying full price for a pair of factory-made skis. Even at your hourly rate.

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