Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Story of the Union Rover - how, what and why.

There's been some banter on the inter-webs about the development of the Union Rover and where the idea / inspiration came from.   For some reason the people or the peoples over at Drift think they invented the approach ski and the we at Union stole their idea.  Time to set the record straight.  Here is the mostly true story based on events that took place during a Covid pandemic.  

May 1, 2020:  Mike Toohey, Mike Pettit and I are splitting at Stevens, which is closed but there's still a butt load of snow on it.  At the top of our ascent, we put our boards together and Toohey says “I fucking hate riding this board, I just want to ride my Mercury.”  My reply...why such a hater bro?

I start thinking about Toohey's issue at the top of the hill and think about what my split experiences are  like.  Most of them are not deeper, farther or higher.  Splitting for me is a season extender.  Pre or post season, when the lifts are shut down, splitting is a way of getting more days sliding down snow.  There's no way in hell I'm gonna go trekking thru a bunch of deep snow, looking for more deep snow, when the lifts are spinning and delivering me to that deep ass snow in a very efficient way.  These thoughts provide no immediate solutions to Toohey's issue with riding splitboards. 

A couple of weeks go by and this photo pops up on the Gram from Mtn. Locals.  

I see this photo and think, damn, these things are sick looking.  But why the hell is he carrying a board with bindings on his back, when he could use Union Explorers on his approach skis for the walk up and then swap them over to his snowboard and ride them down?  It would give you real support climbing but also pull 7 pounds or so off his back.  I instant message Max at Mtn. Local about what he's got going with these things, then end up sending him a pair of Explorers to test with his Switch Boards.   But the season is over in VT., so no go.   

We on the other hand ended the season with 601" and there's still plenty of shredding to get.   I start looking on the internet to see whats out there for approach ski's.   Mountain Approach was never an option for me because of the durability issues with the hinges and the overall weight.   Drift comes up, and I read some good things said about them from The Good RideBear Pow Surf in Russia has some back yard garage stuff, but looks like nothing more than cut up skate decks with skins attached.  20 years ago,  K2 Snowboards sold approach skis.  They had a solid direction focused on backcountry.  The snowboards came with towing grommets in the tail, so you could leash up your board to your waist, and tow it up the hill while you climbed with your approach ski's.  Simple, functional and idiot proof, all the things split boards aren't.  I end up calling Luke Edgar, who was the driving force of this at K2 way back, and chatted about why they failed.  But in the end, I chose to buy a pair of Altai Ski to test and see if I even like walking with a board on my back and ski's on my feet.  They have integrated skins, edges and the width was similar to my split so I could use our crampons with them.   All I had to do was drill into the ski's and mount my touring brackets, which was pretty simple.

On the hill, they worked ok at best.  Not enough grip with the skins and too long to carry in the backpack down were my first thought.  Then figured out that there needs to be a backpack with a management system to maintain your equipment for the up and down.  The "we can do this better" thought comes to mind.  I have some idea's in my head of what would work better, so I contact Max again at Mtn. Locals.  We text about possibly collabing on something with these things, where he does the boards and we do a binding.  Fine and all, but the reality is we have a world class board factory and if we were going to do something, we'd produce it.   I use a line that The Bombhole podcast frequents "a rising tide floats all boats."  Meaning, Union is a reasonably sized company, with vast distribution and if we get something like this rolling, it will create attention and options for people looking outside of what we do.  The marketing power of Union, its athletes and the shops we have in place can help create acceptance for approach skis and together we'd all win.  He agrees and we go our own ways. 

 
The first proto is a cut up warrantied Spring Break.  The 100cm size is shorter than the 120cm Altai's, which were bulky on the pack.   We call them Cuddi's as a working name, since a "Cuddi" is a bro.   You want a Cuddi at the hill with you walking up to shred the goods.

The next morning Pettit and I go to the hill to try these out.  

They walk like shit because of the tip height, as its a progressive powder tip.  But the weight and snow grip blows the Altai's out of the water.  Watching Pettit walk, you notice that because they are so short and light, they don't track like a split board does.  You end up stomping all over the tails because most people are slightly duck footed.  We go back to the shop and grab a Super DOA for proto 2.  


The Cuddi 2 is pretty much perfect and cut from a skill and jig saw.  We taper the tails, so you can't stomp on them when walking, but they give you the length to have enough skin on the ground.  The tip height is way better with Flat Kick and the crampons are game changers going up steep shit.   We are convinced that walking with these are way easier than walking up with a split board AND that carrying the right board for the right conditions with no bindings barely weighs anything going up.  Then we realized there's not all that work to get your shit together for the ride down.  It's simple.  You don't get that assemble anxiety with the Cuddi's.  You just pull the pins on the bindings, spin em on to the board your carrying and your ready to shred.  No skin maintenance, no cleaning off snow build up in the clips, and not putting a puzzle together to ride something that's not right for the conditions.  

I end up getting a pair of Drifts to try out in the meantime.  They had done a co-lab with Burton, and seemed to have some support in the Pow Surf circles.   I liked the way they walked on low angle terrain, but liked the Cuddi 2's better for steeper ascent climbs with out crampons because the length gave me more grip.  An edge made a difference side hilling as well.  Also you could glide with our crampons, and with the Drifts you have to walk which was like snowshoeing.  I don't want to snowshoe.  Lastly, ours looked rad, like Max's did from Mtn. Locals.  

We reach out to the lamination experts at CAPiTA to engineer the concepts we were playing with, along with the must haves.  They put the functionality into the design: Camber, Death Grip, sidecut, tail kick etc.  And by October 1, we had the above.  We move on from the Cuddi name to Rover, as it makes more sense to be Rovering around vs. Cuddi-ing around.  Snow starts falling and its off to the hill to see how these things roll.


I E-Bike up to the fire roads at Stevens early October to the deeper snow pack and bring the Rovers to stomp all over the place and see whats up with these creations.  Tip height was too low, the gloss finish looked eh and the Union logo was hidden under the bindings.  Otherwise the Rovers did everything we hoped they would do, but better.  These changes were sent in and a second round of Rover samples showed up the beginning of November, just in time for Stevens to have over a 65" base with no sign of the lifts running.  

It was game on, over and over, weekend after weekend.  Toohey, Pettit and I tested the proto's, samples,  and split boards.  

We ended up doing multiple tours in a day, because the effort to walk up the hill was that much easier.  Hiking with 11 pounds of Rover and Explorer is way easier than hiking 18 pounds of splitboard, skins and Explorers on your feet.  Technical kick turns were no longer a problem with the short ass Rovers like they are with a long ass splitboard.  Instead of needing technique and ski savvy to make a turn, you just turn and burn.  Walking thru deep snow wasn't a problem as the tails are weighted to drop with each stride and stay above the snow.   I Rovered into terrain I had never split into. Low and behold, I was going deeper, farther and higher than I had ever gone.  7 months after the complain-a-thon that Toohey had over what he wanted to ride down the hill, we had production quality sales samples for something to walk up the hill with.  We were convinced that Rovers were a better option for us to access the hill and different than anything else on the market.  


Union Rovers: inspired out of the complexity of split boards, original K2 approach ski's and Mtn. Locals spin on ski's looking like snowboards.   Get yours at a snowboard shop near you.


Friday, July 02, 2021

One More Tonto

Today is Greg Tontini's one year death anniversary.  Last year at this time, our world was spun upside down with his sudden passing.  Today, we rode the trail in his honor and put a memorial on the tree where he died.  He had a conversation with his wife Julie about this too.  That if he died in a car crash or something, he didn't want a cross and flowers on the side of the road where he died.  He was very clear about this too.  He did not want that.  But...you know what, he's gone and it's what the living want, and the ability to say hi, laugh, and continue having one more beverage when you shouldn't in his honor.  So screw you Greg, you got the fucking cross and flowers.  Below is some pictures from the day, which was all time, as well as what I wrote to myself and Greg's family about how his last day with us went.  Read it if you like. 



6:03AM I roll up to Greg's house to pick him up and call him to come out to the truck.  It’s time to bike I say.  He gives me crap and doesn't believe that I'm there.  So I honk and he lets me know that  that he’s trying to take a shit but will be right out.   We load the bike, and off we roll.  He’s fumbling with his Starbucks ap, asking me repeatedly if I want a coffee from Starbucks when I’m clearly drinking one I brewed myself.  We joke that we should of stopped at the Bikini Barista on Holman instead, and laugh at the two trucks getting a skin show at 6:10AM.  We get to Starbucks on 105th and I5 and he runs in with his shirt over his face because he forgot his face mask and comes out with his coffee and breakfast treat.  He was stoked too.  The Starbucks girl knew his name, which he realized was because his name was on the order he put in on the ap but she recognized him as he is a regular there during hunting season.  She asked if hunting season was starting and they were gonna see him on the regs.  Down I5 we went joking back and forth, talking shit about things.  We got on the subject of who was meeting us this morning and I told him it was Joe and Todd.  Toohey was supposed to go but he backed out last minute.  Greg told me that he hoped Toohey didn’t hate him after the protesting argument that they had gotten in a couple weeks before.  Greg was clear that he had a couple too many at that time and didn’t remember the details of the argument but didn’t like that he made Toohey mad.  He loved the dude and respected what he stood for and wanted to clear that air.  I let him know that Toohey wasn’t like that, and was fine with Greg and then we moved on to how Julie told him not to crash his bike today and to be careful of his shoulder that he had surgery on.  He had no plans of crashing and no plans of going faster than a coast.  This ride was his first on his new mountain bike that he just bought off me and honestly the only reason I think he bought it was for the bro time.  Biking is the activity that puts people together.  You get to drive to the spot together, talk shit on the ride up and pretend you're being athletic, enjoy the rip down and act like your rad, but then at the end, we pull a couple chairs out of the rig and have a beer or two and shoot the shit.  Today wasn’t a beer day, but Greg said he’d ride because he just bought the bike, and needed to try it out so it wasn’t just another Gregs making money purchase to stimulate the economy.     As we were driving I opened up my radio display where there's a compartment to hide you wallet and other valuable crap when you go riding so when the meth heads break into your car, they don’t get everything.  I put my wallet and ring in there and Greg threw his wallet, phone and keys in there as well.  He asked me 10 too many questions about how I discovered that compartment and kept interrupting me when I gave him the answers.  He was driving me crazy at this point with stacking question on top of question but apparently the coffee kicked in and Greg was chatty.  We were talking about his cop buddies, and the struggles it must be during this crap to be a cop.  We got to Raging River parking lot a little past the 6:45 meeting time and Todd and Joe were outside the gates that let you into the parking lot.  The gates were locked and we got dressed in the drizzle.  Greg put the knee pads that I gave him on backwards, with the taps facing in, not out and I let him roll that way.  It was my way of getting back at him for the barrage of questions that he put me thru.  He had his stupid cross fit sneakers on, some Dad cargo shorts and a couple work out jerseys on.  I gave him a helmet, Camelback with water and put elbow pads and gloves in there to put on when we got to the top.  I told Greg the sequence of events of the ride we were going up.  There's 3 sections, first one sucks and its about 18 minutes to the road crossing.  The second one is easy, 10 minutes or so, and then the third was another 15 plus minutes to the picnic table where we would put the rest of the pads on and ride down.  I led the first section, cause they always make the oldest and slowest lead so we have a talking pace up.  Joe was behind me, then Todd and Greg.  Todd was telling us about his new used Sprinter van he just bought, surfing in CA, and how he was probably going to sell his surf boat at the end of the summer.  Greg chimed in about the van and surfing, asking him something or other.  He was doing pretty good keeping with the pack for a bit, then slowed his pace down and said he was fat or something like that.  We made it thru the first road crossing and Greg rolled up saying he wasn’t gonna make it to the top, maybe next section but he was fat and out of shape.  Which for me was sandbagging Greg, sandbagging the situation.  As we sat at the first section, I told him how much fitter and in better shape he looked right now than PK had looked there two years ago after telling me he rode a “Pelaton” at least 5 days a week.  PK was gassed when we rode this and I have a picture of him bent over his bars with his tongue on the ground.  It was during the time that Trump told the nation the way to stop the forest fires was for us to rake the forest.  I think PK and I were joking about forgetting a rake that day.  Greg felt good after a rest, and I told him that the first time I rode this ride, I humiliated myself as a “biker” because my fat ass had to walk a little bit of each section.  I wanted to back out like he did, but this 26 year old dude I was riding with, Mike, kept waiting for me, kept encouraging me that I had one more turn and the ride was over.  Because Mike made me finish, I told myself then that I never wanted to walk that ride or any ride again and made myself pedal pretty regularly to keep my word.  Greg knew we had 10 minutes on this next section and it was the easiest section.  He Joe led this one, with me next, then Greg and Todd pulled up the rear.  Greg told us to go ahead but we said no.  This is what we do, we ride together, we talk shit together and when you need a rest, stop, we’ll stop with you.  We stopped a couple times for Greg to catch his breath, and he wasn’t excited about himself that he was stopping but we were ok with it.  Its what you do.  On the last stop Greg pulled over and we were 100 feet from finishing the section, Greg said he wasn’t going to the top, which I was fine with.  No problem, we’re done in less than a minute.  He told Todd and I to go ahead, he’d meet us up there but we didn’t.  We just stopped, and Greg was sandwiched between Todd and I.  I remember all three of us talking while Greg was catching his breath and then I remember Todd and I just talking.  Greg had rested on his bars for a second for what I thought to relax and the next thing I saw was him fall down into me.  To be honest, I thought he was fucking with me.  I said “really?”  But Todd knew what was up.  He jumped off the bike, told me “lets go” and we jumped on him.  We flattened him out, pulled the helmet off, put my pack under his head to get him straight.  Greg looked like he fainted, as he was snoring and breathing but he was out cold.  Todd told me to call 911 now.  After a minute or so of being on 911, going thru where we were and what was going on, the lady on 911 told us to start CPR.  1, 2, 3, 4 on chest compressions is what she said.  Do them over and over, and count with me, 1, 2, 3, 4.  Todd took the first shift, while I was telling her about Greg, any medical conditions that I knew of and what not.  I said he had a fat deposit removed 3 weeks ago on his rib, and had two shoulder surgery’s over the last two years.  “Does he have a heart condition?”  Not that I knew of, and I said he was a sandbagger, the he would probably wake up and could bench 300lbs.  Todd and I switched off back and forth, and Joe was at the top of trail waiting for us.  911 lady said to stay on him until he woke up while we were doing this.  Todd was the man in charge on the scene for sure.  He had a clear head, and was focused.  I kept jumping in on Greg because I wanted to be the one laughing at him when woke up and told us to get off him.  Honestly, I don’t know if I had a scope of the situation at that point, I’m sure Todd did though and if Greg would of made it out of this, it would of been because of Todd.  It was easily 10-15 minutes that Todd and I were going back and forth when two bikers showed up.  Nate who had a dog, and his buddy who had some sort of medical training.  He asked if we were doing some sort of procedure that he knew and I said we were doing what the 911 gal told us to do.  Nate went up ahead and told Joe to come back down, and he waited at the road for the medics.  His buddy, Todd, Joe and I were on the CPR rounds with Greg and then I left to the road because I could hear the sirens.  The responders were on the wrong road and we dropped pins to where were were.  Nate's signal wasn’t good, so i took the number and dropped a pin a well.  I went back down to Greg and there was another biker there.  This guy was older than us and his name is Dr. Dave.  Dr. Dave's an Orthopedic Surgeon and he said we were doing everything right.  He told me to go to the road and tell the responders that Greg needed a defibrillator and a stint or something that i don't remember now but did remember when I got up there because then a responder truck was there.  It took about another 5 minutes for two ambulances, another truck and a 4x4 utility vehicle to show up.  There was 10-12 dudes and one female now on scene along with all our guys and the bikers.  These guys got to work and it was then my mind started to realize that this wasn’t a good situation.  We were at least 40 minutes from when Greg fell over.  The cut off his shirt and pack, we pulled off his shoes and backwards pads, and juiced his heart with a shock, were pumping on it as well, gave min a shot of epinephrine.  The called for a Lucas Machine to be brought down and that looked like a lawn mower engine you put on the chest that does the compressions.  They juiced him again and we got him on a flat board, put the Lucas on him and we moved him up the road to the ambulance.  All the people there grabbed the air tanks, med kits, and all the crap that was there and brought it up to the trucks.  The paramedic that seemed in charge said that we did everything right and ready for when they arrived on scene.  We were on the road and the one Sheriff came up to me asking about Greg, our group and what not.  He was really nice and his demeanor couldn’t have been more suited for the situation we were in.  I felt safe talking to him, and thought everything was going to be alright.  We talked about going to Bellevue hospital or Issaqua and I asked if I should call Julie to let her know whats up.  We didn’t know which hospital he was going to yet, so I called Lisa and made her aware of what was going on.  Get dressed, get ready because your going to have to drive Julie out here.  She asked me some questions I had no idea of, or if I did couldn’t make words of and she recognized that and let me go.  We went from the road back down to the trail and got our bikes, gear and Greg's bike.  The paramedics put Greg's bike and gear in the other ambulance and we said we’d meet at the trailhead and I would grab it.  By then they would know what hospital he was going too.   I thanked Nate and his friend, Dr. Dave, who said good job to all of us and Todd, Joe and I rode the trail down pretty slow because Greg would want us to enjoy the ride down.  We got to the cars before the rest of the trucks made it down but there was a bunch of Cop cars and a ambulance down the road.  I loaded my bike, got my bike gear off, told Joe and Todd thank you for being there, while going over the situation and each of our versions.  I think at that point I was still believing that Greg was going to be cussing me out at the hospital but had these bad thoughts going thru my head that he might now.  Joe and Todd were last on him before the paramedics got to him and knew that he had stopped breathing 3-5 minutes before they took control while I was at the road, which I didn’t know til later, or did know that but didn’t remember it.  I got in my rig and met the ambulance at the trailhead to grab Greg's bike and gear.  Once I loaded it in, the head paramedic was walking toward me as I walked towards him.  He told me that they stopped working on Greg on the way down, that he had passed.  I couldn’t believe it, Todd was there and he couldn’t believe it and the same with Joe.  The paramedic said that Greg was in the first ambulance and he was going to be transferred to the coroners office.  I asked what should we tell Julie, what to do and where to go.  He said that she should come to Exit 27 where we were.  He was clear that he would tell Julie that Greg had passed if I couldn’t do it and I said no, I got this.  I dialed her number, then panicked and handed him the phone.  After he told her he handed me back the phone and I apologized for it and told her where to meet us I think.  It was the worst conversation ever.  I called Jeff and for some reason was able to tell him.  I dont know how, but he was understanding, compassionate and said he was sorry about this but was happy that Greg was with me doing what we were doing.  The cops said to not have Julie come out as she wouldn’t be able to see him until tomorrow at the coroners.  That blew my mind but now understand that it would just extend all the drama that was going on and all the responders and police that were on the scene.  I called Julie and let her know that she couldn’t see him and tomorrow would be the day.  Then asked the paramedic if I could see Greg and say good bye to him.  He didn’t think the cops would allow it but went to ask.  The head policeman looked at me and before he could say no, I told him that Greg believed in the police.  I had empathy for what was going on an he had three good cop friends.  He paused and said ok but don't…. and I cut him off and said I'm not gonna take anything off him, I just want to say bye to my friend. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

This dude is my HERO


 32 years in a row on snow, every FUCKING month?  Bro...you just stepped my game up to another level and raised the bar to the moon.  I thought I was killing it with 50 months in a row so far, then you come out with this shit?

Seattle has lost its SOUL

Welcome to the SHITHOLE known as SEATTLE.