Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review

For fast, easy over-snow travel, combine the traits of a snowshoe and those of a ski. A short, fat ski would keep the maneuverability, packability and hopefully light weight of a snowshoe as well as the glide and easy trail breaking of a ski. How well does this theory play out in reality?

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Hok Ski: Recommended An impeccably designed, well-made tool for winter wilderness travel, whose introduction should help define an emerging type of ski. When combined with a three-pin binding and the correct boot, it should prove to be exactly the ski many hikers need for over-snow backpacking. The durability of the skinsert over many seasons of use is an open question, which can only be addressed by use beyond the scope of this review, and is something of which potential buyers ought to be aware.

The X-Trace Binding: Average A design with several good characteristics, but most of the same flaws as other universal bindings, which serve to limit its applicability for wilderness travel. It is also overbuilt and thus far heavier than necessary.

About This Rating

M Find other top product reviews »

Print Jump to Reader Comments

by David Chenault |

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 1

Introduction: My Short History as a Skier

It took me decades to really care about skiing. Growing up in flat Ohio didn’t help, but even on trips further afield the lift-served, in-area alpine skiing never resonated. I usually got bored before my legs gave out or the lifts stopped running. Cross-country skiing was more my style, but I inevitably wanted to venture away from golf courses and groomed trails, where the floppy boots and skinny, plastic edged skis made the steep and narrow woods exciting in a way only enjoyable by those young people yet to realize their own mortality. Hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking always seemed like a better use of my time outdoors. I went to college in Iowa, and after graduation escaped further west to Utah and Arizona. I skied occasionally, at both alpine and cross-country areas, but as before failed to see the possibility inherent in skiing which made so many so fanatical about it.

Three years ago, I moved to western Montana to attend graduate school.

Even before the move I knew I’d need to learn how to actually ski. The most interesting areas for a wilderness traveler - the mountains - are in western Montana under snow for over half the year. A wilderness traveler has three options: stay home or in the lowest and most civilized valleys, get snowshoes, or learn to ski. I wanted to learn to ski, not primarily as a means of exercise or of kinesthetic enjoyment, but as the most efficient way to move around the snowy wilderness. Snowshoes are easy to use, but if driven with a modicum of skill, skis are almost always a faster and more elegant way to travel. Or at least, that was what conventional wisdom had to share with me, the unstudied newbie.

So I bought some short alpine touring skis on closeout and got some telemark boots and bindings. I went skiing, a lot. I got new boots and new skis; Karhu Guides, then the widest metal-edged waxless (fishscaled) ski available. I skied more, flailed a lot, got frustrated, and had a lot of fun. It didn’t take me long to realize that not only did none of the existing ski gear fit my needs particularly well, but that virtually all of the momentum in the market was concentrated on two distant ends of a spectrum. I wanted to ski along in the middle of that range, going from one point to another as I did on dirt during the summer, and there wasn’t much gear at all suited to doing so.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 2
Amber Steed enjoys some backcountry alpine skiing in western Montana. Steep, deep powder with fat, heavy skis, two miles from the car.

The ski market as it exists today largely caters to pure alpine skiing or pure Nordic skiing. Alpine skiing is, to steal one company's jingle, all about the down. Folks spend cataclysmic amounts of money to visit places to ride lifts so they can ski back downhill around lots of other people and then do it again and again. The equipment reflects this, being great for difficult, chopped up snow and knee-dislocatingly heavy. Virtually all backcountry skiing gear, be it alpine touring (heel fixed for downhill) or telemark (heel freed) is dedicated to doing what is in essence the same thing. The gear is lighter, increasingly much lighter, in order to make climbing slopes to ski down faster and more enjoyable, but skiing relatively steep terrain is still the raison d’etre. Even ski mountaineering race gear, where the application of technology has facilitated ski/boot/binding pairs which weigh less than a pair of alpine boots, is still circumscribed by the necessity of descending steep slopes quickly.

Cross-country skiing hasn’t changed much, in focus or application, since my youthful golf course exploits. Even the heavier boots and wider, metal edged skis meant for “Nordic backcountry” or “rugged touring” look and ski like fat Nordic race gear. This gear can be quite light, and in the right hands and under the right conditions travel through the woods impressively fast, but the not-right conditions slow such gear to a crawl, and these conditions, namely weird snow, breakable crust, ice, and tight trees and brush are all too common if your winter interests involve approximating summer backpacking routes. What was good snow last night will be miserable in the morning, and sometimes you’ll get all of the aforementioned in one place, together, a state of affairs which, in reasonable folks, engenders swearing and crying in equal measure. Quite simply, skis may be the best way to backpack in deep snow, but the skis and ski gear yet produced are not designed with such ends in mind, and their application in the arena of winter backpacking reflects this.

Fast Shoes Defined

The temptation for many winter hikers is to buy some quality snowshoes, warm boots, and powder baskets for their trekking poles, then call it good. Even the poshest of snowshoes are cheap compared to ski gear, snowshoeing can be learned via the infamous ten-step program (take ten steps and you’re an expert), and their utility changes little from one snow condition to another. When deep snow combines with intense brush and deadfall, snowshoes and their compact maneuverability remain the most efficient option, but in most other conditions snowshoes are much slower than a well chosen set of skis, provided you have the skills to ski them. Snowshoes dig a crater with each step, and have to be lifted up and out before a step forward is taken. Skis apply their surface area more efficiently, and broad tips shove deep snow to the side as they slide forward with more effort applied purely to forward movement. When the snowpack is deep and the terrain is gentle and open, skiing is simple, and with practice almost automatic. You kick and glide forward with ample leisure to examine the splendor at hand. Once tasted, this ease is hard to give up for the ponderous gait, lower speed, and greater effort of snowshoeing.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 3
The author at the Monture Creek trail head near Ovando, Montana, packing for a traverse of the southwestern Bob Marshall Wilderness. This late-May trip showcased the strengths and weaknesses of short skis and universal bindings; it combined long sections of trail hiking, skiing over mountain passes, and floating in a packraft.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 4
A case study in options for over-snow wilderness travel. Total weight per foot is highly relevant, as is matching surface area to the type of snow at hand and the total weight (person and pack) of the user. From left to right, with BPL-measured lengths noted: Atlas Run snowshoe (56 cm), MSR Lightning Ascent Women’s snowshoe (63 cm), Tubbs Sierra snowshoe(76 cm), Altai Hok ski (125 cm), Marquette Backcountry ski (137 cm), Karhu Guide ski (185 cm). Weights and dimensions for each appear in a table, below.

So then, the obvious compromise is to combine the traits of a snowshoe and ski. A short, fat ski would keep the maneuverability, packability and hopefully light weight of a snowshoe as well as the glide and easy trail breaking of a ski. Many dedicated wilderness travelers who live and work in snowy, forested, steep regions have seen the need for such a tool. Jackson, Wyoming based adventurer Forrest McCarthy calls them fast shoes, while Nils Larsen and Francois Sylvain, designers of the Altai Hok, use the term skishoes. Messrs. Larsen and Sylvain are both long time ski industry insiders and were both involved with what is perhaps the Hok's most prominent predecessor, the Karver and Meta short skis produced by Karhu in the early oughts. Both were short (120 to 130 centimeters), fat (100 to 110 millimeters underfoot), had metal edges and a permanent skin inserted level with the ski base taking up a majority of the surface area. These both fell out of production some time ago, though according to correspondence with Mr. Larson, forces other than market demand were to blame.

Fast shoes can thus be defined as short, wide skis with some sort of permanent traction device in or on their base, with all these features striving to synergistically maximize overland travel in woods, rolling terrain, and moderate mountains.

Why short? Maneuverability, packability, and light weight. Most of the reasons both alpine and cross-country skiers use much longer skis are not relevant for a wilderness traveler. Longer skis are stable at speed downhill, but in the rare cases that terrain allows opening the throttle 20 miles from the road, safety probably dictates that such an impulse be limited. Cross-country skiers use longer skis because the length maintains momentum and direction better, but these factors are largely negated by the trail breaking which is almost always a part of over-snow backpacking.

Why fat? Surface area is necessary for float in deep, light snow, and if we place an arbitrary, yet functionally proven cap of 150 centimeters as the longest a fast shoe ought to be, the ski must be fairly wide to maintain float. Wider skis are harder to put on edge, all things being equal, and that becomes a factor when boots must be chosen, as is discussed below. Finally, wider skis, especially wider ski tips, break through and float over crust, logs, and other junk which is part and parcel to skiing the terrain presented by circumstance.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 5
The packability of short skis is highly relevant in many situations. Here the author finds the Hoks easy to attach to a packraft, during the aforementioned Bob Marshall traverse, and to strap to a mountain bike, to access spring skiing in Glacier National Park.

Why a permanent traction device? The only way to move forward absent skating or double poling (both rare, wonderful conditions in the backcountry) is to have something for grip on the ski. Ideally this would provide perfect resistance to backward motion and no resistance to forward motion, and thankfully such a thing has existed for the better part of a century in the form of kick wax. Sadly, kick wax is an unforgiving creature that must be well matched to the snow temperature and type. Sometimes this is easy to do and thus magically effective, such as the consistently dry 10 F (-12 C) powder snow you might find in Yellowstone during February. Other times it is an impossible nightmare, such as late on a spring morning when transitioning from overnight shade to sun, when snow instantly increases 15 degrees in temperature and 20 percentage points in water content. Carrying and effectively applying and reapplying (and reapplying, and thoroughly cleaning off before starting over) the correct kick wax is not a realistic option in many wilderness conditions.

The other proven options for over-snow traction are fishscales and skins. Fishscales being an alteration in the base material of a ski for it to grip directionally, skins being typically synthetic fibers arranged to be not unlike a thick, close-shorn, directional carpet. The fibers lay flat sliding forward, yet stand up to grip and resist backwards motion. Fishscales come in different designs, with a strong inverse correlation between grip and glide being to a certain extent intractable. Fishscales also work much better in wet, dense snow types. Light, very dry powder makes fishscales drastically less effective. With these caveats arrayed before you, it is easy to see why Messrs. Larsen and Sylvain chose to put a permanent skinsert in the base of their new fast shoe, the Hok.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 6
The test set of 125-centimeter Hoks, with X-Trace bindings in place, showing the substantial tip rise, subtle tail rise, and moderate camber: all elements of a predictable and utilitarian backcountry tool.

The Hok Examined

Nils Larsen is something of a ski anthropologist. Videos he has made of the Altai peoples of northern Asia skiing on handmade skis can be found online, as well as material concerning Mr. Larsen’s own experiments with this most ancient of ski technologies. He named his new ski company after the Chinese mountains in which skiing may well have been born, and the company’s first model after one such group’s word for ski. Skiing evolved in this region of Asia, as it did in Scandinavia, for functional rather than recreational purposes. It is thus a fitting midwife for a backpacking ski. The Altai Ski website says that the Hok was designed for “pocket backcountry,” the sort of woods and thickets and low snowpack many residents of snowy latitudes have out their back doors; convenient terrain poorly suited to conventional ski gear and mindset. This is no doubt true, but it is my contention that for a considerable range of rugged over-snow backcountry travel the Hok is the single best tool yet commercially produced.

That there is a growing demand for this sort of short ski is obvious, because the Hok is quite similar to another fast shoe introduced recently, the Marquette Backcountry ski. Unlike the Hok, which uses traditional ski construction with a p-tex base, wood core, and metal edges, the Marquettes are blow-molded out of plastic. Marquettes are also marketed at pocket backcountry, and they excel at skiing soft snow in tight places. Sadly, they are not good tools for unpredictable, remote backcountry adventures. They lack metal edges, making them quite terrifying on hard snow and, as the chart below demonstrates, they are very heavy.

  Item Weight (single) Dimensions (tip, waist, tail)
Gear Tested 125 Hok Ski, bare 2 lb 5 oz (1.0 kg) 123, 109, 123
  X-Trace Binding (w/ mounting hardware) 1 lb 2.5 oz (0.5 kg) n/a
  Voile Mountaineer (w/ anti ice tape) 7 oz (175 g) n/a
Comparison Gear 185cm Karhu Guide (w/ full hardware) 3 lb 12 oz (1.7 kg) 109, 78, 95
  Marquette Backcountry Ski (w/ full hardware) 5 lb 5.5 oz (2.4 kg) 150, 130, 140
  Atlas Run Snowshoe 1 lb 5.5 oz (0.6 kg) n/a
  MSR Lightning Ascent W's 25" Snowshoe 1 lb 12 oz (0.8 kg) n/a
  Tubbs Sierra 30" Snowshoe 2 lb 6.5 oz (1.1 kg) n/a
Boots used Crispi CX4 (mondo size 28) 3 lb 8 oz (1.6 kg) n/a
  Scarpa T2 (modified, mondo size 28.5) 2 lb 14 oz (1.3 kg) n/a

That minimizing equipment weight is essential in maximizing efficiency and enjoyment in the backcountry is in these parts axiomatic (look at the current IP address). However, increasing weight in the name of efficiency can occasionally be the best option. For most hikers, shoes, even though they add weight when compared with bare feet, are faster and more fun. This weight versus functionality calculation is central in evaluating fast shoes versus snowshoes for types of trips, and is the question around which the final section of this review will orbit.

I obtained a test pair of 125 cm Hoks (they’ll be available in 145 cm lengths as well, though the dimensions and weight are not yet finalized) in early May, and used them for various trips around my home in NW Montana for about a month in late May and early June. We had an exceptional snowpack in the winter of 2010-2011, and while there was thus no shortage of terrain for testing, the snow types I was able to ski were necessarily limited. No powder was skied in the testing of these skis, but I did ski a wide variety of spring snows, from bullet ice to foot-deep rain-rotted corn, as well as heavy 24-hour-old snow. I skied the Hoks with the X-Trace universal binding and my usual trail runners (LaSportiva Crossleathers and Inov8 OROC 280s), as well as Voile Mountaineer three-pin bindings and two different pairs of plastic boots. The first were my Crispi CX4s, a three-buckle telemark boot considered to be on the lower and softer end of the spectrum of plastic boots. (They can be seen mounted on my bike in the above photo.) The second are an older pair of Scarpa T2s which I have heavily modified into touring-only winter boots. By touring I mean primarily rolling terrain where making horizontal rather than vertical miles is the goal of the trip. To this end I removed the tongues entirely, cut down the uppers, and ground down the material on the back of the cuff, among other things. With thermo-moldable liners they are very warm, have a great range of fore-aft motion, and provide plenty of side-to-side rigidity. For wilderness touring, especially in cold temperatures, they work very well.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 7
The author's touring-specific plastic telemark boots. Something comparable, such as the Garmont Excursion, would be a good match for the Hoks. Weights of the boots used in this test can be found in the above table.

I skied the Hoks on day trips to our local cross-country ski trails, closed ski resorts, and the rolling backcountry near both, all with both plastic boots as well as the X-Trace bindings. Mounted with Voile Mountaineers, I took them on easy ski mountaineering outings in the local mountains, and I used the Hoks with the universal bindings on the aforementioned Bob Marshall traverse, crossing miles of snow-bound terrain and passes over 7000 feet (2135 m) in elevation.

In short, I found the Hoks to be outstanding at all of these applications and to have no significant limitations other than those inherent to fast shoes. They are quite stiff both torsionally and over their length, the result being that they descend difficult terrain exceptionally well, provided that they are skied by a sufficiently stiff boot and are not pushed to excessive speeds. As a frame of reference, using both of the aforementioned plastic boots I skied the most difficult in-bounds terrain at Whitefish Mountain Resort (including North Bowl Chute, a double black) in funky half-melted conditions. The Hoks held an edge as well as any ski I’ve used, and the short length combined with the gradual curves and up-turned tip and tail made them extraordinarily easy to turn. I skied the X-Trace and trail runner combo at the resort as well, and found that, provided the snow was soft and fairly predictable, I could link turns down moderate runs (Toni Matt, top to bottom) with ease, though this did demand substantial attention from most of the muscles in my legs. At Mr. Larsen’s encouragement I skied the X-Trace mounted Hoks with a lurk, in the style of the skis namesake. This method of skiing quickly became great fun, and while a lurk is an inferior substitute for conventional ski poles when forward motion or weight are considered, the lurk technique might be kept in mind as a way to add an extra margin of control to certain descents on backcountry trips with less-supportive boots.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 8
The author at Whitefish Mountain Resort, six weeks after the lifts stopped turning, skiing the Hoks and X-Trace bindings with trail runners and a lurk (a 7-foot pole from an alder bush). This tripodal way of skiing predates any major recreational use of skis by western cultures and allows low cut footwear to turn the skis with much less effort than “traditional” alpine style.

The Future of Backcountry Ski Boots

The perfect boot for backcountry skiing does not yet exist. Boots designed for backcountry alpine skiing, be it telemark or alpine touring, are heavy and historically choose to restrict fore-aft motion (and thus touring efficiency) in favor of downhill performance. The heavier variants of NNN (new Nordic norm) boots are beefed up Nordic race boots, and while by design they provide excellent range of motion for the flats, the interface between boot and binding (a metal bar in the boot toe is held by a metal clip in the binding) is widely considered to be a liability for turning and more serious terrain. The interface has more flex and play than a three-pin binding, and the toe bars are known to rip out under the more severe forces applied by wider skiis, taller boots, and trying to turn and/or stop in rugged terrain.

The ideal backcountry boot for distance-oriented wilderness travel would provide the largely unrestricted fore-aft motion of a Nordic race boot with the side to side rigidity of a downhill boot, ideally at the same time and without flipping levers or tightening buckles. Unlike backcountry downhill, where laps of long slopes with extended transitions from up to down mode are common, the sort of backcountry travel I discuss here often has frequent transitions from flat striding to steep climbs and descents. As discussed in the body of the article, these descents often feature challenging snow and narrow trails. Efficient travel dictates that a complex gear transition not be needed to go downhill.

My modified T2s demonstrate that it's fairly easy to have good fore-aft ankle motion and sideways rigidity: a moderately tight upper buckle combines with a free flexing cuff to provide both at the same time. It does not ski like a big boot with a lean lock, but enough edge pressure can be applied, provided you stay centered on your skis, to make turns in very challenging terrain (albeit not at high speeds). The more exacting design element is sole flex. The ideal BC boot would flex with the ball of the foot like a lightweight hiking shoe, but resist torsion like a downhill boot. I’m unaware of any boot that comes close to balancing these well. A flaw of many fabric/leather NNN and three-pin boots is that they mate a fairly stiff plastic cuff with a flexible sole, and the latter prevents force from the legs being effectively transferred to the skis. This shortcoming can be addressed to a certain extent by excellent telemark technique and very strong legs, but has limited applicability to most users and does not point the way toward technical innovations. For the moment skiers are forced to compromise based on expected terrain and personal preference, favoring touring at the expense of turning, or vice versa.

I have not been content with the options provided by such compromises, and my modified boots are a result. They have some sole flexibility, excellent sole resistance to torsion, good fore-aft flex and decent sideways stiffness at the ankle. The fore-aft flex compensates to some extent for the stiff sole. The thermo-moldable foam liners are blister-free if molded correctly (lots of toe spacers), and warm enough for temperatures below zero (F).

Another approach was pioneered by Alaska endurance racers and detailed by Luc Mehl is his article Fast and Light Winter Travel. Luc used stripped down Dynafit rando race boots and the toe piece from a Dynafit alpine-touring binding. This system has a totally rigid sole, but the combination of good ankle flexibility and no resistance to forward rotation within the binding system makes this a reasonable option. Luc details the virtues at length in the aforementioned article.

All of this is to say that when the market does not provide adequate gear, ingenuity and power tools can provide a good solution.

Throughout the testing, on both downhill and rolling terrain, I was impressed with how little drag the skin insert provided. I had assumed it would be noticeably more so than the fishscaled skis I’ve used, but the additional resistance on all types of snow and all angles proved to be minimal. On one mountain descent I did notice that when transitioning snow types the skinsert tended to grab certain (wetter) snow types in a way which a well-waxed conventional ski would not have. On the whole, given the impressive grip of the skinsert and the minimal drag, I am quite sold on the idea. Compared with fishscales and even a good wax, the grip force per inch of the skins is very good, a particular asset when weird maneuvering over brush or melted out spots forces a skier to rely on a small patch of the ski for purchase. I do wonder about two potential downsides to the skinsert idea. The first is water absorption. Even skins rigorously treated with DWR and wax will get soaked in short order under many conditions, and while separate skins can be stored in your sleeping bag overnight, the possibility of a wet skinsert freezing into uselessness does occur to me. During the testing period I never had any nights much below freezing, so this must remain the territory of speculation. Vigilant use of skinwax to prevent icing of the skin should be considered a mandatory part of preventative gear maintenance.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 9
Dirty and abrasive spring snow is hard on skis of any type. I was not responsible for all of the stains or lost skin hairs seen above, but this could prove to be an issue for long-term, intense users.

I also worry about the long term durability of the skinsert. Not so much its adhesion to the core of the ski, but the extent to which some abrasion-induced balding might occur over several seasons. It would take serious abuse to produce functional degradation, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this as a possibility.

The Hoks come with threaded inserts built around the common three-bolt pattern used in all common three-pin bindings. Burly three-pin bindings are reliable, cheap, and simple, and thus the only choice for this application. NNN bindings can provide comparable performance, but have a well-documented history of failing under serious use (the toe bar rips out), and thus are not an appropriate choice for anything but the most mild backcountry skiing applications. Threaded inserts not only save the consumer the effort of drilling holes, they make mounting and changing bindings fast and easy (blue Loctite on the bolts proved essential). They also save weight, as the area of the ski which needs to be reinforced in order to support binding screws and prevent pull-out is much reduced. Of course, inserts are only as good as their location, and on a ski like the Hok trail breaking ease (which favors a forward mount) must be balanced with downhill turning (which favors a rearward mount, especially in deep or weird snow). Messrs. Larsen and Sylvain were still in the process of tweaking this when the prototype I skied was made, and the production version will feature inserts mounted 2 centimeters behind those of my pair. I skied this position using adapters and agreed that it will provide the most balanced compromise.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 10
The tip rise of the 125 cm Hok. The green grid is in inches.

The tip of the Hok rises about 3.5 inches over 7 inches of run (8.9 and 17.8 cm, respectively) (when the camber is uncompressed, both increase somewhat when the ski is weighted), both a good bit more than conventional skis. It’s not the fully rockered tip of the Marquette, but the added rise in the tip is a great aid in trailbreaking as well as in floating over irregularities when descending. Any more rocker would have likely had an adverse effect on the edge hold. The tail rise is much more subtle, just enough to allow some smear-turns but not enough to impede plunging the tail into the snow. The gentle sidecut is enough to allow for good turns on hard snow, but not enough that tracking is affected. All this and the light weight mean that insofar as the ski design is concerned, I cannot think of a single improvement. The Hok promises to float and break trail well, turn quickly, and deal with funky snow. It’s light and durable, and it’s simply a bargain at $200.

The Limits of Universal Bindings

The X-Trace universal binding is more of a mixed bag. I likely will not be buying myself a pair of these, for reasons which have partly to do with this binding in particular, and partly to do with universal bindings in general.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 11
The X-Trace at home on my couch.

The first challenge with a universal binding is making it durable enough for the backcountry, and on that ground the X-Trace succeeds admirably. I ought to note here that Altai is importing, not producing, the binding. When a ski binding is paired with floppy shoes or boots, lots of emphatic forces are placed on it, and the plastic in the base and toe plate of the X-Trace manages to flex evenly and well while seeming quite bulletproof. If anything, the whole binding is overbuilt, resulting in the porky weight noted in the above table, which when paired with the very light Hoks makes them borderline too heavy for the benefit they provide. The bindings function well enough. The adjustment mechanism is easy to use and doesn’t require tools, and the ratchet straps operate fluidly under all conditions. The forward motion is mediocre, and could be improved by moving the binding toe support back to place the end of the shoe closer to the pin line around which a ski boot pivots. This shortcoming is alleviated, but not eliminated, by using flexible footwear. The binding does a good job at holding the shoe stable within the binding, and a moderately good job at reducing diagonal or twisting flex. The pad under the toe buckle did display an annoying tendency to creep forward, and the geometry of the toe plate allows for ice to easily build up under the front of your toes, eventually requiring releasing the front strap to remove it.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 12
The X-Trace in detail. Note the buckle misalignment during use, which created a pressure point. Also note the posts in front of the toes. The base plate slopes upwards there, trapping snow, which becomes ice under compression, eventually causing backwards toe pressure, which cannot be ignored.

Beyond all the details of the X-Trace, during the testing of it and the Hok I’ve developed deeper reservations about the extent to which universal bindings are appropriate in the weight to performance calculus all wilderness travelers ought to undertake. A look at table one reveals that the 125 cm Hok is a pound heavier than the Atlas Run snowshoe, one of the smaller and lighter snowshoes currently available. Even assuming a universal binding substantially lighter than the X-Trace, the weight gain with fast shoes would have to be made up by the efficiency of the setup. Whether this will be the case has much to do with the snow conditions and terrain expected on a given trip. The limitations of universal bindings are to a large extent tied to the footwear used, in my case trail runners. I do not think that rigidity and edge control will ever be anything but desperate with universal bindings and floppy shoes (even, I would imagine, lighter high-top hikers), and thus side hilling on harder snow and descending in anything but ideal conditions will be at best problematic. On my Bob Marshall trip I did not have anything close to ideal snow conditions, and found myself transitioning out of the Hoks and X-Traces to posthole on steep side slopes, crampon up hard snow, and even posthole down some slopes rather than crash and risk injury under the weight of the nasty wind-slabbed snow and my large pack. Small snowshoes would have been slower in many places, but would have been faster in others and would have saved me 51 ounces from my pack. Even with the Hoks at my disposal, I used the Atlas Run snowshoes on a similar trip two weeks later. It would take a lot of gentle terrain, and a distinct absence of steeper, more technical skiing, to justify the weight of the Hok and X-Trace combo over a pair of slower, lighter snowshoes.

I am, in short, skeptical about the breadth of application for universal bindings. For most spring trips where they’d be of use, that is to say when large sections of dry trail make hiking shoes a necessity, smaller snowshoes with an aggressive crampon may be the lightest and most efficient option in the grand scheme of a trip. A narrower ski could address some of the limitations here, but not in a comprehensive fashion.

Altai Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review - 13
Following black bear tracks in the Bob Marshall.

Conclusion and Applicability

It’s difficult to compare the Hoks to other skis or snowshoes, or to evaluate them relative to other products, because the only close relatives are either out of production, like the aforementioned Karhu Sweeper skis, or built to different specifications and with inferior technology, like the Marquette Backcountry ski. The Hok defines its own category, using top of the line ski construction with a lightweight wood core, inserts, and metal edges to create a ski best suited to fundamentally different terrain than conventional backcountry skis. The Hoks are not the best tool for wide open, gentle terrain, like the plateaus of Yellowstone in winter. They’re not designed for backcountry downhill skiing, though their ability in technical terrain will surpass expectations. They are best for deep-winter travel in wooded terrain and on unbroken trails, places where glide is not a salient attribute and maneuverability uphill and down is essential for safe passage.

The choice of a permanent skinsert has potential drawbacks. Care will need to be taken to avoid icing of the skins, with prophylactic application of a DWR and skin wax a prerequisite, and more aggressive skin-drying tactics being perhaps necessary under extraordinary circumstances. Given that both fishscales and glidewax are each largely useless under certain conditions, and that skins work in all of them, the use of a skinsert is the most versatile choice available given current technology.

The need for a heavy boot to support the wider Hok is also a disadvantage, though only when viewed through the blinkered vision of mild winter conditions which would not already require heavily insulated double boots. Modern thermo-moldable boot liners are not only warm and comfortable when fitted correctly, the close-celled foam out of which the best liners are made is also largely impermeable to water. The lining fabric of the boot liner can get wet, but the foam insulation itself is incapable of absorbing water, and thus the whole assemblage is easily dried out. Under conditions where insulation of a certain magnitude is already a necessity, the added weight of boots for the Hok becomes less of a weight penalty than a performance boost.

Finally, the skis themselves are flawlessly engineered. The gentle sidecut, rounded tips and tails, and subtle rise/rocker on both ends represents a synergy of the best of modern ski design. The Hoks' predictability in difficult snow conditions, and their applicability to a wide range of trips and terrains, is due above all else to solid design. A well designed and constructed fast shoe like the Hok, when paired with a set of burly three-pin bindings and light plastic or heavy fabric/leather boots should hit the sweet middle-of-the-road spot between light Nordic and heavy downhill gear. Such a set-up is the ski equivalent of a good light hardtail mountain bike: capable of making miles on smooth roads, difficult rocky trails, and everything in between. It is a ski rig focused on making distance in all backcountry conditions, and on doing so in an efficient and safe manner.

While exploring the narrow wooded valleys and buried trails of Glacier and the Bob, I won’t have to futz with applying and removing skins, or flail and overexert my triceps when fishscale grip comes up short. I won’t be wallowing in powder on showshoes, or quaking in terror 15 miles from the road at the top of a steep, fall line singletrack descent cut through dog-hair spruce. I’ll have the perfect tool for single and multi-day trips into quiet places away from just about everything: other skiers, snowmachines, avalanche danger. As I write this, last winter’s snow is a long way from melted, and much though I’ll value dry trail backpacking, the Hoks are going a long way to get me excited for when the snow starts falling again.


Citation

"Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review," by David Chenault. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/altai_hok_ski_x-trace_universal_binding_review.html, 2011-12-13 00:00:00-07.

Print

Reader Comments

You must login to post comments.

New Visitors: Create a new account
Username:
Password:
Remember my login info.

Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review


Display Avatars
Sort By:
Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
As I wrote before, the Hok is probably great for a little winter snowplay fun... on 12/15/2011 19:56:27 MST Print View

I agree that people certainly have different desires for outdoor winter recreation. For example, perhaps a little snowplay in the woods close to home, a casual short outing in the backcountry, or a multi-day trip that mainly entails staying close to a basecamp.
I therefore agree that “this product should appeal to a lot of folks” since a lot of folks are interested in recreation like that. And you certainly don’t need efficient lightweight travel gear for fun like that. (Although it does exist, as witnessed by the success of rando race gear in the FORTY-mile Elk race, which is all about getting “from here to there in the winter” albeit over rather moderate terrain.) But then again, you don’t need any of the gear or info from BPL for that either.
Instead, I thought BPL was the kind of place where people as an avatar might use the Mizuno Wave Universe 4 racing shoes (which in my size on my digital postal scale weigh a mere 7.9 oz per pair). But once the snow falls, it’s all about saving money (although the Wave Universe 4 is on sale at Zappos right now!), or the winter equivalent of casual nature walks, and forget about lightweight efficient travel.
As far as a “used rando setup that's some unspecified amount lighter” I already provided the numbers that show the lightest setup in the review is about 1/3 heavier than my own not-quite-current setup, and that’s extra weight on your feet, where it counts way more than on your back. Moreover, the lightest reviewed setup has a pivot design - or rather, a lack of pivot - that is very much akin to driving with the parking brake on. (So in other words, you’re not only taking on more weight, but the efficiency penalty goes beyond the mere static nature of that weight.) And the skiing performance of the reviewed setup is horribly poor compared to rando race gear (as demonstrated on the company’s own videos).
As far as, “committing to boots that are impossible to hike in should I find myself in conditions where skiing is impossible or impractical” a stripped down F1 is better for hiking than the modified telemark boots in the review. Admittedly, although I have hiked many (many) miles at a time in my ski boots, they are certainly not optimal for hiking compared to trail runners, etc. But given that the universal binding didn’t even make the cut in this review, I won’t go into the details of how much worse a Hok + universal binding + trail runners setup would be than a rando race setup plus trail runners (or even my Mizuno Wave Universe 4 racing shoes if the non-snow travel will be relatively smooth).

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: As I wrote before, the Hok is probably great for a little winter snowplay fun... on 12/15/2011 21:15:43 MST Print View

I don't think its fair to criticize or generalize BPL for ignoring weight when it comes to winter activity. This is just one review. BPL does plenty of reviews of gear that is outside what most would consider to be ultralight activity. However, if there is a piece of gear that seems to fit a niche market, then it is worth reviewing. If it fits that niche market just right, than it is definitely worth saying so. A quick glance at many of the previous reviews shows plenty of gear that most of the members of this site would say is not really ultralight, but interesting enough nonetheless. Much of that gear is bought and used by ultralight folks because it fits our budget or satisfies the niche we want satisfied.

That being said, I think an article about "state of the market" ultralight winter travel would be most welcome. Perhaps you could write such an article, going into more detail about many of the things you mentioned. You can bet that cost would be an important item to mention. But as someone who has bought two (yest two) Cuben tents, it won't be the only criteria.

Most of the time I travel in the winter with very comfortable, very lightweight gear. My guess is that is lighter than Rando race gear, but I also travel with this gear when the conditions are right (no need for metal edges) and the terrain is moderate.

I've never heard of the Elk Race, but my guess is that if gave out gold medals, then maybe ski makers would make much lighter general purpose gear.

Also, I should mention that Jonathan is not the only one who is excited about Rando Race gear. A trip report quickly turned into a similar discussion here: http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7991770 (although it was mostly focused on the boots, rather than the skis).

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Specialized Gear on 12/15/2011 22:15:22 MST Print View

Jonathan,

It is too bad this thread has gotten off track, and I have participated in that.

As I mentioned earlier, I know diddly about skiing.

I am glad you brought up the Mizuno Shoes. I know a little bit about them. If you are familiar with my posts, you would know I do a lot of hiking in XC flats. And the Wave Universe series were designed just for that, running cross country races, although they are now marketing the 4's as minimalist shoe to capitalize on the current minimalist craze. I strapped on my first pair of racing flats in 1967, so they are not new to me. XC flats are for racing in XC meets, generally 5K in high school, and 8K in college unless you run in the NCAA Regional or National finals. XC courses tend to be gentle rolling terrain. You would also know that I have hiked in several brands of XC flats the past few years, mostly Asics and Sacouny. You would also know that I do not advocate them as best or even better shoe than other options. They are just my preference and not a viable option for most people.

Now, if someone wrote an article about general use trail running shoes that would interest a broad cross section of BPL members, I would not post that you forgot XC flats or even that they are better. XC flats probably fit the need for less than 1% of the BPL membership. An article about minimal trail running shoes on BPL would probably not include XC flats; they are not designed for trail running. I might mention them as a lighter option and leave it at that. If people want more information on my experiences, I am more than willing to share them. I also have shared the negatives about cross country flats... they don't last long (very high cost per mile vs other shoes), traction is not great, no rock plate, not good in cactus country, you need to be agile, you should be carrying a very light pack, etc.

I probably have recommended Salomon Comp 3Ds more than any other shoe, because they fit me well, and would be a good all around choice for most people here if it fits them properly. I have 3 pair, each for a specific need, but probably do more hiking in flats that don't last. That is what works for me, and will not work for most people on this site.

And this is the point. Seems Dave wrote an article that would appeal to a good cross section of BPL members, and you keep pushing the benefits of a specialized and more expensive option. As I said earlier, a simple post of "you may want to also consider this, because of XYZ instead of beating it to death.

And yes I mention cost, because it is important to a lot of BPL members. I am fortunate because I have been working for over 40 years and my kids are grown and gone. So I can afford to spend more discretionary income on my hobby. Others here cannot, or have additional responsibilities that I do not have. I am very sensitive to cost for that reason.

BPL is about sharing information, knowledge, and experiences. Usually there is no right way. What works for one person many not work for the majority.

To be honest, the best thing for you to do is to let this thread run its course and let those interested in Dave's system discuss it. There does seem to be an interest by some in Rando racing. Why not start a thread on that subject, where those who are interested in it would get some real benefit. This way everyone wins.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
A niche market unrelated to BPL... on 12/16/2011 08:11:04 MST Print View

The Hok certainly fills a niche, but a very specialized one for short-distance snowplay, not BPL’s lightweight efficient travel (for which rando race gear excels across a wide spectrum of terrain).

Now granted outdoor lightweight efficient winter travel has many niches, depending on the terrain, and also the traveler’s skills. At one extreme – or rather, entirely non-extreme terrain – where metal edges are not required, the new Skiathlon xc race boots might be ideal for backcountry applications ... perhaps paired with SNS Pilot skate bindings for extra lateral control . . . and the new Skintec classic skis. (Or would a wider model be better?)
At the other extreme, for truly extreme terrain, but combined with long approaches, then one (small) step up from rando race gear might be ideal. (Witness the recent speed record for ski mountaineering on the Grand Teton.)
For non-skiing winter travel, various “traction devices” offer interesting variations on the old instep crampons and the like for low-angle snowfield hiking. And although snowshoes are neither light nor efficient, for non-skiers, it beats postholing, so they still have their place.

Overall, the review is akin to writing about footwear for trail use yet dismissing out of hand trail runners (of which the La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0 is my current favorite, though I might consider using my Mizuno Wave Universe 4 if the terrain was very smooth and I subsequently had to carry my shoes around with me for the duration of the trip once I hit snow).

Brendan Swihart
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
Re: A niche market unrelated to BPL... on 12/16/2011 08:51:38 MST Print View

Jonathan, this isn't a SOTM article. It's a review of one product, and an excellent one at that. This is what a gear review should look like: thoughtful, honest, well-written, and the product has been used enough by the reviewer for them to be able to take a real stance on it.

Like others have said, offering some alternatives is helpful but at this point we know your stance and maybe another thread on rando gear is the best way to keep this thread on track for those that want to discuss the Hoks.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Interesting "sliding snowshoe" review on 12/16/2011 10:49:09 MST Print View

Dave,

Thanks for the review of gear I didn't know existed. Interesting stuff, especially so for beginner backcountry ski campers. Plus, as you mention, they are much more packable than regular BC skis.

My own BC ski gear is:
Atomic TM 22 tele skis (190 cm.)
Asnes Norwegian Army skis (210 cm. !!) Easier on undulating terain but hard to turn.

Both have heavy duty Voile' 3 pin bindings mounted on Voile' RELEASE binding plates
(Hey, I'm 68 and don't want broken bones in the backcountry.)

My main BC boots are low, more flexible Scarpa T3 boots. I also have old, heavy duty Vasque leather telemark boots.
And yes, as you said, snowshoes are an effort. Even my top-of-the-line MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes are S L O W compared to the skis.

BTW, If I got the Altai skis I'd still mount my Voile' release binding plates and still use my Scarpa T3 boots unless the terrain was gentle and the trip just a day trip, in which case I'd use the Vasque leather boots, being the lighter of the two pair.

Edited by Danepacker on 12/16/2011 18:33:56 MST.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Crampons etc. on 12/16/2011 11:03:47 MST Print View

For those looking for a crampon, you could get a b and d telemark crampon (http://www.bndskigear.com/telemarkcrampons.html) or a fixed ski crampon from voile for the Hok though neither of these is designed for downhill use and don't offer as much resistance to forward travel as the teeth on an msr snowshoe.

I can definitely see the appeal of the hok from the point of view of the recreational snow shoer or the user looking to get in a few turns during a spring/summer hike without specialized footwear. I also have a ton of respect for the kind of multisport ski + bike + pac raft + hike enchainments David seems to be putting together using the hok...revolutionary stuff.

However I feel there is also a revolution going on centered around tech/rando bindings and the latest generation of compatible boots that walk and climb as well as a climbing boot, tour like an XC ski shoe and ski like a downhill boot and it is a little surprising to see David dismiss this gear so quickly. Alpine climbers are climbing hard remote routes in these boots with dynafited skis strapped to their backs and difficult ski traverses and enchainments are getting done more and more frequently by non expert skiers...I feel this gear is enabling new types of human powdered adventure like a pac raft and don't understand why he is so down on it.

From my own experience with winter travel David seems to under value the importance of fore aft stability, the predictability and repairability of pure ptex bases and the hugh safety advantage of releasable bindings. Even at conservative low speeds I have trouble envisioning such short skis eliminating all of these issues and keeping me stable with a pack in variable snow under tree cover, or on logging roads covered with refrozen snowmobile tracks or in heavy grabby snow... perhaps a decent ski crampon that let one walk downhill would help but 135 is pretty long to be side stepping with.

These things would be less of an issue if one could be ensured of consistent untracked snow for miles and miles and perhaps that is the case in the rockies but it is not my experience in the cascades.

A few mustache free, bushwhack heavy, non racing rando gear shots:

...for mandatory booting...
For the ups...
...and the downs...home

Edited by ryanbressler on 12/16/2011 11:07:51 MST.

spelt !
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
balance on 12/16/2011 11:33:29 MST Print View

Ryan, thanks for the broader perspective. I like the concepts rando seems to be pushing forward. It just doesn't fit my budget or the kind of trips I'm doing for the foreseeable future. I appreciate Dave's extensive testing with the Hok and am excited to try mine when they come. Even if I move on to "real" skis at some point, I still see where the Hoks could stay on as snowshoe replacements if they perform as expected.

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
For beginners? on 12/16/2011 12:05:32 MST Print View

A lot of discussion with a lot of terminology I don't even know. One thing I'm curious about is how friendly these various setups are to cautious beginners (someone who knows how to cross country ski in easy terrain, but nothing more). I snowshoe a lot, and my backyard is exactly the place that makes me curious for something like this - steep, wooded, snow-covered for 6 months per year. But conditions are often icy, snow is variable, and the hills are quite steep. When my husband has used the Karhu Karvers (and I'm in snowshoes alongside him), it seems like the extensive switchbacking required to go up the hills cancels out the speed advantage coming down. Though it might not if the skier was more skilled?

Is there a ski setup that has an advantage over snowshoes for someone who isn't a ski expert?

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Specialized Gear on 12/16/2011 12:34:31 MST Print View

To add a little to Nick's nicely stated and dispassionate response ...

Rather than just starting a thread about using rando gear in the backcountry Jonathan might also care to write a 4000-5000 word article including a dozen or so photos showing details of rando gear and their back country use.

Regarding topics addressing what fewer than 1% of BPL readers do ... I recall two articles about climbing Denali in UL style (well, really light anyway), several about the Alaskan Wilderness Classic and one about packrafting the Grand Canyon. I seriously doubt that 1% of us will be doing those (but kudos to those that do.)

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
For beginers on 12/16/2011 14:01:54 MST Print View

I'm still very much a beginner in terms of skiing as I've only got into it seriously in the last few years mostly as a way to access the mountains in winter, tele turning (the kneeling turn used by the skiers in the hok videos) is harder to learn and much harder to master then the fixed heel alpine turn. Tele turns are fun, beautiful and soulful and keep you in touch with the snow...I've spent days lapping small powder filled clear cuts on karhu guides and light plastic and leather boots and it is an absolute blast but when the snow gets tricky or the steep I often trip up and face plant or catch a tip and tweak a knee. Shorter fatter skis might help this to some extent but I would also worry about going over the handlebars on them more...I end up survival skiing a lot (traversing back and forth across the slope and kick turning) which can be imposible in tight trees.

In comparison, after a couple of seasons on AT gear (and 3 days lift skiing in my life) I can confidently pick my way down the fall line weird refrozen black diamond terrain in heavy fog, make tight turns through steep tight trees and blast out chunky snowmobile tracked logging roads by moonlight relying on the stiffness of the skis and boots to absorb even the things I don't see or have time to react too and If I do crash my skis come off my feet instead of blowing out my acl. I'm not doing long multi sport trips like dave and I can definitely see the draw of a shorter ski and multipurpose footwear for that...

Dave equates the Hok's to a hardtail mountain bike and I can see that being an apt description in terms of the terrain one can access for that. For me AT skis are something more, in mountain bike terms it is as if all of a sudden the entire brushy and rugged cascade mountain range is covered in moderate bike trails and slick rock and I can go wherever I want. The gear is more expensive but it is worth it if you use it often...

(Note: I use the term AT or alpine touring interchangeably with the french term rando or randonee. Both of these terms refer to skiing with bindings that have a tour mode and a heel locked down ski mode.

One intriguing option not yet mentioned but often employed by climbers is using one of the silveretta or similar AT bindings with a crampon compatible climbing boot and rope from the knee of the skier to the tip of the ski to provide additional stiffness. This with the longer hok might be a great approach setup but I like the stiffness of a real ski boot...)

David Olsen
(oware)

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Skins in tight crud on 12/16/2011 14:51:18 MST Print View

Sometimes leaving skins on can slow your descent to get through tight and icy spots.
Use rope climbers and you can turn your skis into snow shoes.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
beginners and experts on 12/16/2011 17:10:14 MST Print View

Ryan, I am not dismissing AT gear. Its advantages are extensively documented, and easy to research. I do think that for a wide variety of wooded, nordic terrain other gear will serve most better. Unfortunately my self-indulgent responses early on here only served to obfuscate that.

As Eric's response highlights, prospective skiers will need to match equipment to terrain. I see no benefit in pretending that one article could be any sort of reasonable guide for that, so I didn't even attempt it.

Erin, the question of whether skis might work better than snowshoes for you depends on a lot of factors, some having to do with terrain, some with your personal preferences and ambitions. From what little I know of the Kenai, snowshoes might be the best tool for non-alpine stuff. Very steep, short hills and thick brush tend to favor snowshoes, though for me short, fat skis like the Hoks are the next best thing.

I'd also like to highlight that rando race skis are so light for two reasons: hi-tech construction and dimensions. Top of the line race skis have waists below 70mm and tips skinnier than the waist of the Hoks. Comparing the two is thus rather problematic. I do have some K2s with dimensions almost identical to something like the Dynafit DNA, albeit 10 oz per ski heavier. They're great for firm spring and resort snow, but under other circumstances I prefer to stack the deck more in my favor. A cool fixed heel bushwacking setup might be had by putting some Speed Superlights on the 154 Voile Chargers, though then you're looking at 1300 grams a ski unmounted.

More snow travel articles here would only be a good thing. As the seasonal surge in questions on winter travel shows, the demand exists.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
niche, but more than one niche on 12/16/2011 22:41:29 MST Print View

Well, this discussion has certainly wandered around. Which, if you think about it, is pretty apropos, since that is one of the things these types of skis are well suited to.
I think that here we have some differences of opinion that are partially rooted in points of view. If you think like a skier, then anyplace you'd want to ski, anyplace where the skiing would be enjoyable, would be a place where AT or Rando race gear would be more efficient and more effective than ski-shoes. But if you're not thinking like a skier, but instead you just have some spots in mind that you'd like to visit when the ground is snow-covered, spots that may be in thick woods, or brushy, with lots of short, steep ups and downs, then a ski-shoe might just be the ticket. those places are no fun to ski - trust me, I've tried it. And no one would go there for the skiing.
As a backpacker who happens to travel on skis in the winter and spring, I've thrashed around the woods on various skis for many years. I've also spent a fair amount of time in more alpine regions on skis - skied across the Sierra last spring - and yet I hardly think of myself as a skier, since that isn't why I go. I go to see the sights, and to experience the mountains in a different way than I can in the summer. I can definitely see the advantages of AT type gear for the long tours I do in more open terrain. If only I could afford any new skis now. But for thrashing in the woods, I'd take these in a heartbeat. That totally free pivot is great for going up a long climb, and maybe even for a flat kick and glide, but when it's a few sidesteps, and then a 10 foot downhill to a stop, followed by a traversing sidestep and a few choice cusswords, then that in-between sort of connection to the ski that you have with a 3-pin or an NNN-BC binding really comes into it's own.
With dynafits, if you have the heel unlocked and you lift the ski off the snow for a weird sidestep maneuever, the tail of the skis drops down, making it hard to do that kind of thing. And if you lock in the heels, then it's hard in another way. So for that kind of thing, it's just not the tool for the job.
Yes, these are a niche product. But the niche is not just fooling around in the backyard. There are indeed multi-day trips for which I think these would be the most efficient option - it's just that those conditions are such that a lot of people would never want to go there, and thus might not consider that sort of trip in their assessment of these types of skis.
And of course, there is another niche, and that is for the snowshoer who wants a little more speed but not too much. Probably a much larger niche than the multi-day bushwhacking niche.

David Cramer
(dauwhe) - F
Hok + Dynafit on 12/18/2011 11:42:16 MST Print View

I can't wait to try these, especially as I have done a fair amount of nordic-type skiing on a low-end Rando Race setup (BD Cult skis, Speed bindings, TLT5 Mountains). But something about the idea of these ski-like objects was very attractive to me, especially for local summer hiking trails where having something slower than skis would be an advantage for a bad skier like myself (skill level seems to influence equipment choices in skiing more than many other sports).

So maybe I'll mount some Dynafit bindings on the Hoks and use 'em with my TLT5 boots.

Jonathan, here's even more evidence that my telemark past has addled my brain ;)

Dave

David Cramer
(dauwhe) - F
Weights on 12/18/2011 12:16:20 MST Print View

Just pulled out the scale; the Hoks + 3pin binding + Scarpa T3 is about 50g lighter than my Rando setup (157cm BD Cult, Dynafit Speed, TLT5 Mountain). So essentially no difference.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Exactly... on 12/18/2011 13:01:51 MST Print View

Exactly: you can (and you indeed deed) assemble a reasonably light ski mountaineering setup on the cheap, that will perform reasonably well across the entire spectrum of moderate-angle touring, the occasional rando race, and even the most extreme ski mountaineering that one dares engage in.
Or spend more on rando race gear to drop additional pounds of weight while still retaining the performance (on the up, on the down, and in between).
Or save some bucks and get a backyard snowtime plaything that, while undoubtedly fun at its intended purpose, is very ill-suited for actual wilderness travel (given both its shape and the driving-with-the-parking-brake-on intended binding) as well as any higher-angle skiing.

spelt !
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: Exactly... on 12/18/2011 15:08:53 MST Print View

Man, give up on repeating yourself and just admit this is grudgewank already.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
binding reinforcements on 12/18/2011 21:58:53 MST Print View

For those thinking about mounting alternate bindings on the Hoks, be sure to inquire with the company first. I'm not sure there's enough reinforcing material for something like a dynafit heel piece.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: A niche market unrelated to BPL... on 12/19/2011 19:01:50 MST Print View

Now granted outdoor lightweight efficient winter travel has many niches, depending on the terrain, and also the traveler’s skills. At one extreme – or rather, entirely non-extreme terrain – where metal edges are not required, the new Skiathlon xc race boots might be ideal for backcountry applications ... perhaps paired with SNS Pilot skate bindings for extra lateral control . . . and the new Skintec classic skis. (Or would a wider model be better?)

I agree. Personally, I'm a big fan of regular cross country boots and bindings combined with skis that have the most sidecut in their class. Their class being skis that don't have metal edges. I know these are heavier than skis meant for the tracks, but they perform much better in the backcountry. As long as the conditions are good and the terrain isn't that steep, I can go lots of places. I often take such gear in places where I have the flimsiest gear by a long shot. No matter, if the snow is good, and the terrain is not too steep and narrow (steep and wide can simply be traversed). If I was a better skier, then I would stretch the envelope even more. The trickiest part of the process is matching the gear to the conditions. If it is crustier than I expect, I fall down a lot.

I would really like to see the numbers on the Rando Race gear. I was serious before, and now Jim has suggested it as well: A state of the market report for Rando Race Gear (or similar gear) would be great. Even something just laying out specs of example gear and approaches would be nice (not as exhaustive as a SOTM article, but of the same nature). I enjoy the comments, but they are no substitute for a real article. I know some of the prices will raise some eyebrows, but so be it. We are all used to it, and make those sort of trade-offs every day (e. g. $450 for Cuben or $200 for Silnylon).

As an example, I wrote a little spreadsheet of my gear. It may be hard to read (it makes sense to me) but, for example, I have 1742 grams on each foot (boot, binding and ski) with my typical gear. I have less if I'm exclusively on a groomed track, but not that much less. I'm sure I could slash some weight by going with a lighter boot, but probably not that much. On the other hand, I don't really know, as I'm quite happy with my boot (it is very comfortable).

Edited by rossbleakney on 12/19/2011 19:02:21 MST.