Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Product Reviews: Fischer Progressor 8+, Saucony Kinvara, Craft Zero Extreme Crew, CW-X Stabilyx Tight

It's been one hell of a week at the Crashing the Boards offices. And by offices, I mean getting out there and after it.

To wit, put down an epic ski day over at Saddleback Mountain: waist deep powder, low 20s temperature, and a barnburner of a run at 43 MPH. You can't get much better than that. Then, of course, because I'm sick in the head, came home and ran with the Maine Running Academy for the night. Couple all this with a great swim set earlier in the week, and things are looking up for next week's start of training for my first half-iron distance race.

To make all of this extensive training possible, though, it's important to have the right gear. You can't make turns confidently on skis you don't trust; you can't run in shoes that don't fit well; you can't run outside in the winter without the right tights or pants. In all, here's a few items in my arsenal that have been added in the past 12 months:

Fischer Progressor 8+ 170 cm: Full disclosure: I've been on Fischer's since I started skiing. I know how they handle (extremely responsive), and know what they don't like (laying flat). In other words, this isn't the ski for you if you want to be lazy. Instead, if you're an active skier looking for your ski to provide a lot of energy return, this is where to go. The dual-radius turning system is a real cool trick: the tip of the ski is set at 12m, where the tail is tuned to 16m. So if you're forward on the ski, you can make explosive slalom-style turns, or ski moguls with a lot of confidence. Meanwhile, if ripping big GS turns is more your style, sit back and relax. Great carving and edging on firmer surfaces.

Tuning note: the integrated binding system on the Progressor provides a lot of response. However, the Austrians tend to mount the binding further back on the ski for more stability at high speed. If you want more quick turning, or a centered feeling on the ski, mount on the forward (+5) setting. Want to float in powder? Set it to the rear setting (-5).

In all, a great all-mountain ski for the East Coast, or a carver for those out West. Not for the faint of heart, but those who want to really get out there and hit the slopes hard.

Dimensions: 120mm tip, 72 mm underfoot, 103 mm. Price: $799 with Railflex bindings.

Saucony Kinvara: If you've read the post on Natural Running here on Crashing the Boards, you'd know where this shoe falls into our categories of footwear: natural. Coming in around the 10 ounce mark in my massive size 13 boats, this is probably the lightest shoe I have run in.

To be entirely honest, I was skeptical of trying something like this out. I've had plenty of issues with running before (see my Injury posting), and going to something without posting seemed like it would be wrong.

I could not be happier to tell you: I'm wrong. This shoe kicks about 11 different levels of tail. I've taken it on speedwork, on long runs, on short runs, and it has been a dream. I will say that it is happier at speed than it is slow, as you are more likely to maintain good form when you are pushing your limits. (Weird how that works out, as you'd think form gets sloppy when you add speed to things).

Note: the lack of heel-toe drop can be a bit jarring if you haven't run more midfoot-style before. It can lead to some Achilles and calf issues, or even stress fractures in the lower part of the leg. Transition slowly. But for those who have made the switch, this shoe is a winner. Thinking this is my shoe for training and racing this year.

Cost: $89.99, available from Saucony or specialty running retailers.

Craft ZeroExtreme Long Sleeve and Concept Base Layers: Two answers to the same question: what to wear as a base layer. In general, for winter, we want three different layers: your base layer, designed to move sweat as quickly as possible; your insulating layer for warmth, and a shelter layer to protect from the wind and precipitation.

The ZeroExtreme line was designed with 35-55 degree temperature ranges in mind. To be honest, I could never see myself wearing the Warm product line. I love these two pieces. The Long Sleeve and Concept both feature the same basic weight in the garment, but the Concept piece has a bit more open paneling off the Cool product line for breathability. Extremely lightweight, and form-fitting.

Fitting note: Yes, they ARE supposed to be that tight. Take your normal size in these things. The Scandinavians do tend to build things long and narrow, but we want this to be tight so that if the wind makes it through your first two layers, you are still protected from your sweat turning ice cold.

Prices: $69.99-$79.99, available at ski shops, specialty running stores, and Craft directly.

CW-X Stabilyx Tight: Not just a tight, CW-X utilizes both compression and kinesio-tape application to provide a support web throughout. The Stabilyx product line focuses on the IT band, patellar tracking, and the calf for support. Other pieces in their line focus on other aspects of the body.

I've been wearing them for both skiing and running, and I can definitely feel a bit of the difference between them. My personal pet peeve, though, is that they aren't quite long enough: I've got a small spot on the lower part of my leg that does not get covered by my sock nor the tight. CW-X: please offer a tall version.

Sizing note: Sizes not based on waist size or inseam: instead, simple height and weight will dictate. For reference, at 6'3" and 150-155, I'm in a large. (again: please offer a long version!)

Cost: $97.99, available from specialty running and ski retailers.

Now equipped, what are you waiting for? Get out there!

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