FREERIDE WORLD TOUR BAQUEIRA BERET PREVIEW
The 2023 Freeride World Tour (FWT) is finally kicking off, as athletes and FWT staff prepare to return to the Spanish Pyrenees for one of the hottest events of the season.
Words by Matt Coté
Over two years—that’s how long it’d been since I last left Canada. As someone who used to cross the border quite often, the pandemic has made for a long stint at home. And, to be clear, travelling is still a pain right now, so I wouldn’t do it for just any assignment. But when the good people behind Blizzard Skis invited me down to one of the most hardcore backcountry zones in the American West this early February, I got my jumping legs out and made it through every hoop between me and Silverton, Colorado. Not only is this little burg tucked in the San Juan Mountains North America’s answer to Chamonix, but the people at Blizzard have consistently delivered some of the best times I’ve ever had as a ski journalist. On the occasion of launching their 2023 Hustle ski series, despite all the hurdles Covid was still putting up, this time was no different.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Silverton Mountain Ski Area starts at about 2,900 metres above sea level, and tops out at just over 4,000 metres (higher than Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies). The ski area revolves around one solitary lift: a vintage, rickety double chair that feels as if it was plucked right out of Old Man Winter’s beard. Once up it, you have to boot-pack to every run. The ski area is minimally controlled for hazard, and is basically a hybrid backcountry operation. In turn, you must ski with a guide, the team of which also doubles as the avalanche control team—tossing bombs on storm days to tear down loose snow. Other than the one luxury of avalanche control, there’s not a single cut run, groomer or even sign on the entire mountain: It is one-hundred percent natural terrain, and the perfect place to put the screws to skis curated for that exact experience.
SHAPE AND GUTS
Let’s get to it: The Hustle lineup borrows its shapes from the Rustler series, but that’s where the similarities end. The formula here is to take beloved dimensions, put new guts in them, cut a bunch of weight out, adapt the flex pattern and torsion to powder, and go send it.
While the tried, tested and true Flipcore is still present in these sticks, Blizzard has now also been able to integrate its TrueBlend technology (which is absent from the Rustler line). This essentially controls longitudinal and torsional flex via carefully engineered placement of different-density stringers, laid at different lengths. What that means is the ski can twist more in the tip and tail, getting rid of all unwanted hook-iness. This allows a fat, stiff ski to be more forgiving while still floating and feeling supportive under foot. The metal Dynamic Release Technology sheet from the Rustlers (which lives underfoot and supports the middle of the ski) is carbon fibre in the Hustle, but still also tapers at the ski’s extremities (hence: D.R.T). The Hustle 11 weighs in at 1,850 grams per stick in the 188 length (actual production lengths still to be released), which is about a 400-gram haircut from the Rustler.
How do they ski? Let me start by saying, “Don’t call it a Rustler.” Having owned two pairs of Rustler 11s, the shape felt intuitive and familiar to me, but the rest was all new. Let’s deal in the trade-offs first, chief of which is that lighter skis deflect more, and that certainly happens here. There’s simply no way around that with any light ski, but there is a threshold beyond which a ski can become too light, even as a backcountry offering (I’m looking at you, Canadian company whose name is an acronym). So, yeah, going lighter is always a compromise on downhill performance, and nailing the right compromise is a tricky dance. For me, the Hustle is exactly in the sweet spot, with just enough swing weight to know it’s there, but not enough bulk to be a pain on the skin track, or when strapped to my pack.
Now, putting aside deflection (which is a non-issue in powder anyway), the Hustle somehow feels even more powerful than a Rustler to me. Blizzard tells me it’s not, so I can only assume what I’m feeling is what I would describe as the strength-to-weight ratio. While the overall ski isn’t as stiff as a Rustler, it doesn’t need to be, because it’s not compensating for its own bulk. At the same time, that means it’s also more supple in powder, which is what you’re looking for when you go touring anyway (or at least I am).
It was also telling for me that I was equally comfortable on the longer and shorter lengths. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s because the TrueBlend is adapted specifically to each length of ski, and each ski length’s power is calibrated to that.
Turn radius and camber are of course a matter of preference, but this ski again was just right for me at 19 metres (at the sample 180 centimetre length), providing enough effective edge and contact to be reliable and connective when on chalky snow, and just enough shape to help turns along without making the ski dance its own jig. A small amount of camber is complimented by a judicious amount of rocker in the tip and tail, without compromising the running length of the ski—you’re always skiing the whole thing. For that reason, I’m comfortable sizing down about five centimetres from my preferred length on these, which saves even more weight.
The recommended mount point is modern, and reasonably progressive (again, worked great for me), and the shovel and tail aren’t all that big in relation to the waist. As a result, I found the ski felt narrower than it actually was, which made it surprisingly wieldy for being 112 underfoot. I always felt this came at the expense of flotation with the Rustler, but because of the finely tuned core and flex pattern on the Hustle, that’s not a problem here, and you get the best of both worlds.
Blizzard’s messaging around this ski is built into its name—the company says it’s for dedicated rippers, hustlin’ to earn their turns: Up at dawn skinning laps before work, or out until sunset, dragging the day’s last rays into their descent. The company wanted a ski that would let these folks go farther, but still charge on the way down. Proof of concept was served up to me on day three of our test, when we ascended Battleship Mountain on Red Mountain Pass. To do so, we skinned through all manner of refrozen creek chunder, scrubby forest and windswept ridgetop to cruise dreamily back down a powder-packed 1,000-metre slide path extending from the scoop of the mountain’s broad peak.
On the way up, a ski’s only real job is to be light and balanced, and that the Hustle is. The only other consideration when skinning is rocker and mount position can affect trail-breaking (and kick turns). The tough dichotomy is that what’s good for modern skiing (a forward mount point), does make touring more annoying. But Blizzard chose to prioritize the down in this regard, and left the mount point where everyone loves it. I’m good with this. I myself will give up a bit of energy while squishing track to have a more comfortable and fun position on the ski on the way down. So here again, Blizzard nailed it for me.
All told, the float and edge-ability of this ski is at the top end of what, in my experience, is possible to build into a touring ski. The Hustle is comfortably at home with the best all-around backcountry skis I’ve ever used, and will likely make the best of quivers redundant, providing the ability to grip chalky couloirs, or float down heavenly pow fields.
The Hustle 11 is set to hit stores in the fall for $899.95 CDN.
Long paired with bootmaker Tecnica, our friends at Blizzard also let me spy their newest offering—the Zero G Peak. I’ll just say it: this boot is for rando dorks—but I’m one of those, so hear me out. If you’re a freeriding ski-tourer, there are two shoes dominating right now, one is Dynafit’s Hoji, the other is Tecnica’s Zero G Tour Pro. The basic divide goes like this: If you like three-piece, you’re in a Hoji, and if you like overlap, you’re in a Zero G. The trick for rando dorks that want to send it deep in the spring, or race mid-winter, is that most ultralight boots emulate the three-piece design. Tecnica’s Peak, however, is powered by an overlap that will make ex-racers feel right at home.
Weighing in at 980 grams in a size 26.5, it’s right in the mix with the lightest boots on the market. What makes it stand out in its category, though, is a full-height cuff, and a full range of motion even with the buckles done up. That all equals far less fussing, and a better time going both up and down. Next, a double-locking bar controls the ski-to-walk mode, and feels surprisingly solid and progressive when locked. The boot’s gasket is sewed and not laminated, and it comes with a fully removable boot board which allows for custom fitting at a knowledgeable shop (most touring boots don’t have this option, and it’s a very nice touch). The lower of the boot is also designed to be punched, and a carbon sole makes the cockpit extra rigid at the interface with your binding toe. That means extra power, in case you were wondering.
Offered in a women’s and unisex version, the Peak will also be available with a carbon or plastic cuff, and you can slip into this slipper for $849.95 CDN (for both the Peak and Peak W), and $949.95 CDN for the Peak Carbon.