Monday, March 22, 2010

Silvretta Easy Go 500 - User Guide

After reading my last post about the Silvretta AT binding it, it occurred to me that I never discussed about the "how-to's" of the binding. If you recently acquired such a binding, how do you adjust it for your boot? How do you set the DINs? I borrowed some pictures from Lou Dawson at, and am off to share some info.

-Boot length. At the rear of the heel lever apparatus is a screw. Turning this screw translates the heel section along the rails. This adjusts the binding to fit various lengths of boots. From Wildsnow, it appears that newer models of the 500 come equipped with a lever, which when activated allows the heel portion to slide along the rails. Adequate forward boot pressure is indicated by the same adjustment screw, or from a small "button" at the end of release latch. With the boot snapped into the binding, the adjustment screw or indicator button, sits flush with the housing. Forward boot pressure is not a selectable setting. Do not adjust this setting for more or less forward boot pressure.

-Boot catch DIN.Though there is no toe release mechanism, the 500's comes equipped with two rear DIN settings. The first is the heel lever DIN. This setting controls the amount of force required to flip the heel lever onto your boot. It acts as release in the vertical direction. This DIN is adjusted by flipping open an access port and inserting a screwdriver as indicated by the red arrow. If you are using leather mountaineering boots, it is easy to adjust this setting to much so that the heel lever catch presses into the boot so hard that it deforms the heel cup.

-Lateral release DIN. This is the most obvious DIN setting with the adjustment screw in plan view. What is not obvious and most likely the most mysterious aspect of this binding, is how to reset the binding once you have tripped the lateral release. Notice the indicator arrow and the locator dot pictured in the red circle. When the lateral release has been trigger the dot and the indicator arrow will no longer be aligned, and the binding needs to be reset. To reset the lateral release, flip the heel lever forward and strike the heel lever in the forward direction with the palm of your hand. The internal mechanism will POP, and the indicators will once again line up. Without resetting your binding, there is no way for the boot to be reattached to the binding.

-Rear Heel Latch. The previously mentioned heel lever, attaches the boot to the binding. The rear heel latch, latches the front pivoting platform of the binding to the ski for downhill mode. It also incorporates various levels of heel lifters. The pictured latch is the original latch. As praised in my previous post, the old style heel latch is very well thought out and easy to use. All functions can be performed with a ski pole. On a bench top it is easy to flip the latch from one mode to another with your hand. In the field, doing so with a ski pole, can save alot of effort, however it does take some practice. From Ski mode, on can enter tour mode by depressing the blue button, indicated by the red arrow. Once out of ski mode, one can manipulate the lifters by either inserting the ski pole tip in the direction of the black arrow and torquing the lifter in the desired direction, or hooking the ski pole basket into the notch where the yellow arrow is, and pulling. You will need to lift the boot and binding in conjunction with lifter manipulation so as to either clear the lifter or to prevent from over positioning the lifter. The square patch indicated by the blue arrow is used to set and lock the binding back into ski mode. After a long tour session, the heel catch area might have ice accumulation on it and prevent the binding from sitting down all the way on its base. A quick jab with a pole tip is usually sufficient in releasing the ice build up. Running the binding in the first elevator also prevents the accumulating snow from compacting into ice, as well a preventing wear at the ski mode latch interface as mentioned in the previous post.
So now that you have figured out how to use this binding, go out and get some turns on the most versatile binding every made!!
UPDATE- If you are looking for a pair of these bindings here is a deal.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St P's Day - Corned Beef and Cabbage

The first time I had Corned beef and cabbage, I was 18 and a senior in high school. I was playing tenor sax for our high school jazz band. To make a little money to help the band program, our director would hire us out of perform "gigs". On St Patrick's day we went to the local Masonic Hall to perform for the Mason's annual corned beef dinner. After performing for an hour or so, it was our chance to sit down and enjoy a meal: Corned Beef and Cabbage. What I knew to be corned beef to be at the time was corned beef hash. I was surprised when I was served beef brisket. What is so "corn" about this beef I asked. The only responds that I got was that it is salted beef.

I loved that meal. Everything about it was right. I was playing music for money, served good food, and was in the company of "wise old men" who viewed us with respect; for a change. Ok maybe not respect, but we were playing the type of music they enjoyed, and they very much enjoyed it. From that day on I have made Corned Beef and Cabbage every year at or around St Patrick's day.

Corned Beef is beef brisket cured in a brine (salt water) solution. Potassium nitrate is added to preserve the beefs pink color. So why is it called CORN?? The word corn is also defined as a hard particle or grains. Such as a grain of sand or SALT. So corn refers to the course type salt used to cure the beef, and not the yellow ears of corn used in everything else. Wouldn't it have been less confusing if they just called is Salted Beef? But I guess then I would not have been able to write this little article. Happy Saint Paddy's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Silvretta Easy Go 500 - A Mountaineers Ski Binding

Eight years ago, my buddy and I were coming off of a mountain we climbed on the East Side of the Sierra Nevada's. I think it was Mt Bladwin. This was before I had my blog to document these types of adventures. After receiving a thorough ass kicking by the mountain, we trudged back to the trailhead. Knee deep snow, snow shoes, full packs, 5 miles, 25 degree downhill slope. There has to be an better way I thought. A few weeks later I bought my first piece of ski gear: The Silvretta Easy Go 500 Alpine Touring Binding.

Granted my knowledge of skiing then was limited to what I had learned from the movie Aspen Extreme. I had REI mount my 500's on a pair of Kneissl Magic Cruise (170), I bought from Play it Again Sports for 30 bucks. This was back when I thought mounting bindings was a black art, left only to ski shop sorcerers. Next I purchased a set of skinny skins with tips and tails from an old cross country racer; one inch wide. Finishing off my "kit" were my trekking poles and La Sportiva K3 Mountaineering Boots. I then headed out to the mountains in my 2wd truck to cut my teeth on this skiing business, pulling over next to any group of parked cars, and hitting any snow mobile track I could find. Boy was I clueless.

I learned alot from those early days of skiing. Though EVERYTHING in my original set up has been replaced, those Silvretta 500's were the only thing that I had gotten right. The 500 is a basic rail or platform type AT binding. The boot clips into a platform which is hinged at the toe for touring. The rear of the platform in locked down with a latching heel piece for downhill alpine skiing. My 500's have seen over 200 days of use and performed flawlessly. Back country, resorts, cross country, these bindings did them all. I have even taken them into the park to stomp on a box or two. I used these binding while participating in Diamond Peaks Vertical Challenge (Chinese downhill) where I place fifth, skiing over 50,000 vertical feet in 6 hours.
Several features make the 500's unique. The pivot is set further back to optimize the pivot location, requiring less lifting of the boot with every stride. The Carbon fiber rails create a relatively lightweight binding. But the feature that makes the the 500 a much sought after binding even today is the fact that it will accept a mountaineering boot. In fact it will take any boot that can accept automatic crampons (clip on); AT boots, Alpine Boots, leather mountaineering boots, and even telemark boots. I soon learned that though possible it is no good to ski down hill in leather mountaineering boots. The 500 also features a rear DIN release, three level heel elevators that you can actuate with your ski pole. One can expand on to the feature list by adding ski brakes and ski crampons. The ski crampons are well designed and are able to be attached with the ski is still attached to the boot. This is especially important if you find yourself in a step icy spot and need to install your crampons immediately. Published material show the crampons to be constructed from Titanal, which is not titanium. It is in fact a age hardened aluminum with no amount of titanium in it at all.

There are however some faults with this do-it-all binding system. The primary issue I had was that it was not step in. One has to toe in, then reach down and flip the heel lever into place. This heel lever was designed to be able to adjust to all types and heights of heel notched, and not for convenience. Not a big deal, but coupled with the fact that I did not have ski brakes and required leashes, made these ski difficult to work in as a snow maker. The constant in and out of your skis at every snow making gun was tiresome. Lateral binding flex was another thing the 500's suffered from. Since the binding is only attached to the ski at the toe and by the heel, the long rails between the attachment points were able to flex. This is common of all platform type AT bindings, the 500's might have been slightly more susceptible due to the lightweight rail material. However this was only an issue when viewed on a bench top, they reportedly skied like a normal pair of bindings by much better skiers than I, who borrowed them. Don't blame the gear when it is the skier's lack of skill is really at fault. Unlike a modern alpine downhill binding, the 500's do not have a front release. I have never found this to be an issue in any of the falls I have taken on them; even slow twisting forward falls. However this could be a concern for those with injury prone knees.

To address some of these mentioned shortfalls, Silvretta made two variations to the 500; the 505 and 555. The 505 had a step in heel lever. This however made the binding less versatile as it could not longer accept ANY boot heel. Most boot heels however were still accommodated by this binding. The 555 was the most downhill oriented of the three variation. Built with the 505 step in heel lever and a plastic shrouded toe piece. The toe's wire bail was still there, but the plastic shroud keep the bail from flipping and made for an idiot proof step in AT binding. Because the 500's true calling is a mountaineering boot compatible binding, the 505 and the 555 were short lived and are not longer in production, and the 500 still live on.

Because of the fact that you can ski bindings in mountaineering boots, it make them very desired even today. Climbers looking for approach skis can now do so in their climbing boot, without having to lug around a second pair of boots. Though the 500 is still in production today some slight changes have been made to the latching heel pieces. This is denoted as the 500 LSV. The LSV used the same latching heel piece found on the Silvretta's Pure line of AT binding. Though this is a claimed beefier heel piece, I found the older heel piece easier to manipulate with a ski pole.

Though adjustable, platform type AT bindings are offered in several sizes to match boot sizes. Typical adjustment on span a range of couple of boot sizes. Silvrettas are offered in three sizes: SML. However I have seen kids size as well. This makes looking for used bindings more difficult. However there is a ray of hope. The Carbon rails of all Silvretta bindings can be easily cut shorter to accommodate a smaller boot size. Drive out the roll pins, cut rails down, drill new roll pin holes and voila, bindings that are shorter. Sorry no way to make the rails grow. Though this write up is for the Silvretta Pure, the 500's are very similar.
A tip for users. When touring with these bindings always use the heel elevators. If the terrain is level, use the lower of the two elevator settings. The two carbon rails are held together in the rear of the binding by a steel "U" shaped connector. The seat of the heel piece is aluminum. After a million steps, the steel "U" wears into the aluminum heel piece. This increases the amount of play when the binding is in ski mode. If your binding already has this area worn, and little bit of tape can be placed at the contact zone to take up the sloop. I used a 3m type clear film with much success. There is not adverse effect if you wear down the seat of your evelvators, they will still function fine.
If you are DIY ski mounter, Sir Lou Dawson at has provided a mounting template. The 500's did come with a paper template.

As a parting shot I included this photo of a joint collection of Silvretta bindings between my friend and I. From right to left. 404, 500, 555, 3rd gen Pure Performance, 4th gen (current) Pure Performance.

As a North American Skier this might be the first time you have heard of Silvretta bindings, or heard of them mentioned in a positive light. Light, well engineered, reasonably price, durable, what is there not to like.

A second article has been written in case you want to know the nitty grittys of the binding, such as adjustment and the every so mysterious Lateral DIN release reset.
UPDATE-If you are looking to buy some 500's here is are some deals .

Monday, March 8, 2010

That's Not a Knife - The Swiss Army Giant

Which boy did not dream of getting his first folding pocket knife. How many hours have I ogled in front of the glass Swiss Army Knife display, comparing the functions of one model over the other. Recently I have found the grand daddy of all Swiss army knives the "Swiss Army Giant". This 85 tool "pocket knife" claims that it is not for use but as a collector or display model. And with a MSRP of $1400, I am sure no one but a collector would be buying these up. A list of the 85 functions can be found below.
This particular knife is made by Wenger, the "Genuine Swiss Army Knife". However many might remember the name Victorinox as the "Original Swiss Army Knife". Well what would a good blog post be without a little story or a history lesson. So here you go the history of the Swiss army knife, an exert from Wikipedia.

In 1891, Karl Elsener, then owner of a company that made surgical equipment, discovered to his dismay that the Modell 1890 pocket knives supplied to the Swiss army were in fact made in Solingen (Germany). In that age of nationalism, Elsener set out to manufacture the knives in Switzerland itself. At the end of 1891 Elsener took over production of the Model 1890 knives, but Elsener was not satisfied with its first incarnation. In 1896, after five years of hard work, Elsener managed to put the blades on both sides of the handle using a special spring mechanism, allowing him to use the same spring to hold them in place, an innovation at the time. This allowed Elsener to put twice as many features on the knife; he added a second cutting blade and a corkscrew.

Karl Elsener used the cross and shield to identify his knives, the symbol still used today on Victorinox-branded versions. When his mother died in 1909, Elsener decided to name his company "Victoria" in her memory. In 1921 the company started using stainless steel to make the Swiss Army Knife. Stainless steel is also known as "inox", short for the French term acier inoxydable. "Victoria" and "inox" were then combined to create the company name "Victorinox". Victorinox's headquarters and show room are located in the Swiss town of Ibach.

According to Carl Elsener, head of Victorinox in 2009, U.S. soldiers bought Swiss Army knives in huge numbers at PX stores on military bases. As "Schweizer Offiziers-Messer" was too difficult for them to say, they called it the "Swiss army knife", and that is the name it is now known by all over the world.

Elsener, through his company Victorinox, managed to corner the market until 1893, when the second industrial cutler of Switzerland, Paul Boéchat & Cie, headquartered in Delémont in the French-speaking region of Jura, started selling a similar product. This company was later acquired by its then General Manager, Theodore Wenger, and renamed the Wenger Company. In 1908 the Swiss government, wanting to prevent an issue over regional favouritism, but perhaps wanting a bit of competition in hopes of lowering prices, split the contract with Victorinox and Wenger, each getting half of the orders placed. By mutual agreement, Wenger advertises as the Genuine Swiss Army Knife and Victorinox uses the slogan the Original Swiss Army Knife.

On April 26, 2005 Victorinox acquired Wenger, becoming once again the sole supplier of knives to the Swiss Army. Victorinox has stated that it intends to keep both consumer brands intact.

1. 2.5-inch 60% serrated locking blade 2. Nail file, nail cleaner 3. Corkscrew 4. Adjustable pliers with wire crimper and cutter 5. Removable screwdriver bit adapter 6. 2.5-inch blade for Official World Scout Knife 7. Spring-loaded, locking needlenose pliers with wire cutter 8. Removable screwdriver bit holder 9. Phillips head screwdriver bit 0 10. Phillips head screwdriver bit 1 11. Phillips head screwdriver bit 2 12. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm 13. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6 mm x 4.0 mm 14. Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0 mm x 6.5 mm 15. Magnetised recessed bit holder 16. Double-cut wood saw with ruler (inch/cm)17. Bike chain rivet setter, removable 5-mm allen wrench, screwdriver for slotted and Phillips head screws 18. Removable tool for adjusting bike spokes, 10-mm hexagonal key for nuts 19. Removable 4-mm curved allen wrench with Phillips head screwdriver20. Removable 10-mm hexagonal key 21. Patented locking Phillips head screwdriver 22. Universal wrench 23. Laser pointer with 300 ft range 24. 1.65-inch clip point utility blade 25. Metal saw, metal file 26. 4-mm allen wrench 27. 2.5-inch blade 28. Fine metal file with precision screwdriver 29. Double-cut wood saw 30. Cupped cigar cutter with double-honed edges 31. 12/20-gauge choke tube tool 32. Watch caseback opening tool 33. Snap shackle 34. Telescopic pointer 35. Compass, straight edge, ruler (in/cm) 36. Mineral crystal magnifier with precision screwdriver 37. 2.4-inch springless scissors with serrated, self-sharpening design 38. Shortix key 39. Flashlight 40. Fish scaler, hook disgorger, line guide 41. Micro tool holder 42. Micro tool adapter 43. Micro scraper straight 44. Reamer 45. Fine fork for watch spring bars 46. Pin punch 1.2 mm 47. Pin punch .8 mm 48. Round needle file 49. Removable tool holder with expandable receptacle 50. Removable tool holder 51. Multi-purpose screwdriver 52. Flat Phillips head screwdriver 53. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm 54. Spring-loaded, locking flat nose pliers with wire cutter 55. Phillips head screwdriver bit 0 56. Phillips head screwdriver bit 1 57. Phillips head screwdriver bit 2 58. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5 mm x 3.5 mm 59. Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6 mm x 4.0 mm 60. Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0 mm x 6.5 mm 61. Can opener 62. Phillips head screwdriver 63. 2.5-inch clip point blade 64. Golf club face cleaner 65. 2.4-inch round tip blade 66. Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, can opener 67. Golf shoe spike wrench 68. Golf divot repair tool 69. Micro straight/curved 70. Special tool holder 71. Phillips head screwdriver 1.5 mm 72. Screwdriver 1.2 mm 73. Screwdriver 0.8 mm 74. Mineral crystal magnifier, fork for watch spring bars, small ruler 75. Removable screwdriver bit holder 76. Magnetised recessed bit holder 77. Tyre tread gauge 78. Reamer/awl 79. Patented locking screwdriver, cap lifter, wire stripper 80. Special key 81. Toothpick 82. Tweezers 83. Adapter 84. Keyring 85. Second keyring

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Fiber - Blow in Insulation

Buurrrr. Growing up in Southern California, I never experienced cold like I do now. Sure there were nights that got below freezing and visiting the mountains when it was snowing, but living in it everyday is a whole different story.

One thing I noticed is that our house was not well insulated. Since I now own my home, I might as well do something about it. One clue that the house is poorly insulated, is the presence of melted snow and an ice dam on the roof. Both were present.

Crawling into the attic reveled two items of concern. One there was only about 4inches of fiberglass insulation, with many holes in the insulation network. The other bad thing was that highest point in the attic allowed for only crawling. There was no way I could access the edge of the attic near the eves and exterior walls. I tried cutting sections of batting material and stuffing them to the edges with sticks and broom handles. This was exhausting, time consuming work in the dark confounds of the attic. After about an hour of toil, I had only installed a single roll. I had estimated 20 rolls to do the job.

The solution to my problem was blow in insulation. This was perfect cause all I needed was to drag a hose into the attic and fill the voids with insulating material. I did a quick search and found that Home Depot carried Green Fiber brand cellulose insulation. Each bail covered 40Sq Ft, at $10.67 a bail. HD was having a special: free machine rental with 10 bag purchase, I think it might usually be 20 bails for the free rental. It was calculated that 40 bails were needed to properly insulated the attic space of my house. On the first trip down to HD I was able to get the machine and 20 bails in my truck.

There are several benefits of Green Fiber insulation other than the ease of installation. It is made of 85% recycled material. Both post consumer and post industrial. In fact this stuff looks like rats nest material. Basically chewed up newspaper. I even found some cereal boxes in the mix. Having shredded newspaper fill your house sounds like a receipt for a house fire, so this stuff in fire resistant. It is processed with a broate solution. When burned the cellulose material chars and forms a non flammable barrier. All this is while being non-corrosive, and formaldehyde-free.

The machine comes with 2, 50 foot long hoses. Set the machine up outside, cause it really makes a mess. Then I dragged hose up into the attic. The machine reminds me of a yard chipper. You feed the compressed Green Fiber material into the machine and it breaks it up and shoots it down the pipe. Make sure the flap is pulled back to allow the material to enter the delivery hose. This is a minimal 2 person job. One to feed the machine, one of spray the insulation. Three or four people would make this job even easier. Since it helps to have someone man the hose, and help with communication. I used a walkie talkie to communicate with the machine operator. It was helpful to know how much material I had left and when to turn the machine on and off.

Prior to actually blowing in the material some prep work needs to be done. Hot vent pipes and reccesed light fixtures need to be boxed off. I did a rather minimal job with pieces of plywood. Blowing in this stuff is one of the dirtier jobs ever. So much dust is created that you really need to protect yourself. The ideal thing to use is a full face respiratory that covers up your face and eyes. I used a half mask respirator and ski goggles with clear lenses. A dusk mask can be used if you can get it to seal up well enough. The attic space at my house was unlit and thus I also needed flashlights and head lamps. Because of the close quarters and darkness, once the machine started blowing I had 2 feet of visibility. That means I had no idea where I was spraying the material. I had to take several breaks to let the dust settle in order to see my work.

After about an hour and a half of blowing I finished 20 bails. However there was several "holes" in my insulation network. I estimated 10 more bails would finish off the job. So the next night it was back up into the attic to spray some more fluff into the house. The result was another 4 inches or so of insulation. However all of the entire ceiling was now completely insulated.

Well was it worth it. For about $350 worth of material and two nights worth of work it defiantly is. Before the upstairs would get cold as the fire started to die out. Now we forget the fire has run down and sometimes dies cause we do not have the cold to remind us. The upstairs rooms do not drop in temperature dramaticly as you walk past each door away from the fire. I am very happy that I did this and only wish I did this in the fall so that I could have enjoy the fruits of my labor all winter instead of just the second half.