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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review on 12/13/2011 16:23:25 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

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

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review on 12/13/2011 21:46:45 MST Print View

Nice write-up, Dave. And I whole-heartedly concur with your take on backcountry ski boots. AS a backcountry ski tourer - with the emphasis on touring- I am also disappointed with the current offerings. But I don't have a lot of hope, as the market is so small. I think the technology is there, and designing a boot that would be superior to the the Garmont Excursion (my current boot) for what I do would seem fairly easy. But making it would be expensive, since making any plastic boot requires molds, and unless you can sell a bunch of boots it's tough to amortize the cost of the molds.
However, the advent of skishoes and the like may be a point in our favor - since the kind of boot that would suit these best is just the kind of boot that I would want, and it seems likely to me that there will be more folks who want something like a skishoe than there will be folks looking for a boot for multi-day, non-downhill oriented backcountry ski tours. So the more skishoes that get sold the more hope we have for a real backcountry touring boot to appear.


(cooperman1)
Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review on 12/14/2011 08:34:41 MST Print View

Dave,
This is an especially well-written, thorough and direct review. Before reading it I was concerned that it would take a somewhat waffling-maybe-this-maybe-that attitude, but it proved to be absolutely clear and to the point. I really appreciate that.

It is also very timely, as a friend and I, living in the Ohio you left, are both about to buy such a ski, and, not knowing about the Hok, were planning on purchasing the Marquette Backcountry ski. You have very likely changed our minds.

We have modest backcountry in Ohio and nearby western Pennsylvania. But the terrain is not necessarily modest. Local Metroparks have steep ravines and dense woods whose narrow trails were built for hiking. Frequently we'll descend 60 - 100 feet down a narrow hiking trail only to be faced with a sharp turn at the bottom. The sharp turn is necessitated by a large tree. In conventional light nordic gear we'd be faced with a desperate snowplow, a prayer that a clumsy telemark would work or, more likely, a controlled fall. Anything to avoid a direct hit on 100 year old oak.

It would be far better to be able to avoid the narrow trail, go off trail slightly, give ourselves more space and make the grade gentler if only we could have a ski that would turn through dense woods without the length that catches on downed branches and without us having to be champion skiers.

The videos we've seen showing the inventor of the Marquette ski deftly working his way through the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at high speed, give a good idea of what someone with superb skills can do in dense woods. Trying the same thing at the same speed, we would likely be carted out in an ambulance.

It would also be nice to use skis instead of snowshoes (and I still am greatly enamored of snowshoes) on our backpacking trips in western PA, even if the skis need to be carried occasionally crossing a rock-strewn ravine or creek. Lightness would count.

So I hope we'll soon have the opportunity to try the Hoks out in our local woods and see if we can exchange our snowshoes for them.

Thanks for the review.
Marty Cooperman
Cleveland, Ohio

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
skis and boots on 12/14/2011 09:01:26 MST Print View

Paul, I hope you are correct about boots. As you say, it wouldn't take much (besides $$).

Martin, I think the Hoks would suit ya'll well. Snowshoes still have a place, especially in early or late season, with patchy snow and a lack of base, but skis are more fun.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Why Not Rando Race Gear? on 12/14/2011 10:33:39 MST Print View

You dismiss rando race gear for backcountry touring applications, but exactly what modern rando race gear setups have you actually used that causes you to conclude that it would be worse that the reviewed gear for the kind of skiing described here?

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Re: Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review on 12/14/2011 11:12:57 MST Print View

Absolutely agree with the lack of a decent boot that balances lateral rigidity with fore-aft flexibility. I've elected to go to lighter boots--Rossignol BC X-11 or even skating racing boots. This isn't so hard as a lifelong telemark skier--beefy tele boots didn't exist when I started skiing and we still skied almost everything.

I'll have to try the lurk idea.

Thanks for the article. Dare I risk divorce with yet another pair of skis? Can I hide my "habit" from my spouse?

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Guides are what have you quaking in terror not skis in general. on 12/14/2011 11:28:05 MST Print View

The Karhu guide had an issue with the bevel on the edges underfoot you can read about on various skiing sites making them terrible on hard snow including tobogan run trails though tight trees as you describe. Skis with real edges that can be sharpened handle these conditions much better.

Also planning winter trips along summer trails is dangerous as summer trails often cross open slopes that are avalanche slopes in winter. It is usually better to take advantage of the fact that brush and streams are covered in snow and plan a route that is at least partially off trail to avoid avi terrain and minimize transitions (btw this is why I put together the combination of satellite photos, slope overlays and snow pack data on hillmap.com linked in the "on the web" section of this site).

If you are serious about fast and light winter travel you need to give a dynafit/tech based setup a try and learn to plan trips for the winter environment and your mode of travel instead of trying to replicate hiking. With a bit of practice you can get your ski/skin transitions quiet quick. I've come to love the freedom of winter as I can easily skin places that would be horrendous 'schwacs without snow and then ski back to the car in a fraction of the time it would take to walk...I end up covering much more ground then I do in summer.

spelt the enigmatic
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
ha! on 12/14/2011 11:31:19 MST Print View

We have modest backcountry in Ohio and nearby western Pennsylvania. But the terrain is not necessarily modest. Local Metroparks have steep ravines and dense woods whose narrow trails were built for hiking. Frequently we'll descend 60 - 100 feet down a narrow hiking trail only to be faced with a sharp turn at the bottom. The sharp turn is necessitated by a large tree. In conventional light nordic gear we'd be faced with a desperate snowplow, a prayer that a clumsy telemark would work or, more likely, a controlled fall. Anything to avoid a direct hit on 100 year old oak.

This is (unfortunately?) all too familiar to me!

Keith Roush
(skier) - MLife

Locale: San Juan Mountains
Rando gear on 12/14/2011 11:56:36 MST Print View

My light rando gear offers significantly easier touring with more control than the gear you tested. Weights run from 5 to 8 lbs for skis/boots/bindings with gear that can be used on average trails to high mountains with a pack.Skier

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review on 12/14/2011 12:00:25 MST Print View

Excellent article, David. I especially like the intro. I had a small email conversation with the editor of Ski Trax magazine, and he wrote about the same thing. It is a shame that there is so much focus on the groomed or the steep, and not much about making your own tracks on mellow ground. I'm afraid that most of the folks that do that are on snow shoes, which seems like a shame.

I've written a lot about this niche market with David, much of it on his excellent blog (http://bedrockandparadox.wordpress.com/). So, most of the review confirms what I expected. To begin with, these are excellent skis. I've already ordered a pair, and eagerly await delivery. I could tell even before this review that the length, width and other design details are just right.

I'm still not sold on the permanent skin, but maybe I'll be proven wrong. I personally would like a nice waxless base (especially since waxless bases are very good right now) along with some way to easily attach a skin. Maybe little bolts, which allow a custom skin to be attached. I would sell the skin as part of a package (as opposed to standard skins, which are custom cut by the user). Such a skin would rely less on the glue, and more on the physical attachments.

I'm also not surprised about the problems with a universal binding. My experience with universal bindings matches David's. Generally speaking, if the binding provides good support, then gliding is difficult. With an easy glide, you don't have much support. The only exception I know about is a custom binding, that uses Berwin along with a hinge. I think the main advantage to an universal binding is less bulk (not less weight) along with a more enjoyable experience. I've been on a few trips, where the other guy carried his skis, along with his universal binding. He made very nice, controlled turns along with nice uphill glides. He said he would put the control somewhere between Nordic Backcountry and Telemark gear. He could have carried his ski boots, but then things get really bulky. He could have carried snow shoes (as I did) but then he wouldn't have enjoyed the day as much as he did.

Perhaps the best solution is a good ski boot that allows for easy hiking. I know that some of the A. T. boots have tongue inserts that allow you a fair amount of flexibility going up and good support going down.

But back to the product at hand, I think there is only one thing this ski needs, and that is an easily removable crampon. Even with these short, easily maneuverable skis, I'm sure I will encounter terrain that is too difficult for skis. In that case, I would just like to go into "snowshoe" mode. Knowing that my skis won't go anywhere (up or down) adds a lot of security. With that, I would never use snowshoes again.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
skishoes on 12/14/2011 12:18:49 MST Print View

I have the Karhu Karver (131cm) and Meta (120cm) ski-shoes. I take them when I want to move right along and don't plan any serious descents (not fun with a pack or pulk anyway). They float about as well as my snowshoes, but definitely move forward easier. They glide down easy slopes as well as my AT rig, but weigh significantly less. The skinserts work and have worn well, so far; I much prefer this to fishscales. The Karhu bindings have a rigid aluminum base plate, to compensate for floppy snow boots, so they work like a free-heel AT binding, not tele. It looks like the X-Trace is an improvement.

I don't like them in icy-choppy conditions, like suncups. Then they tend to be a bit fast and skittery, and I start wishing for my snowshoes' crampons or the edging of a rigid ski/boot combo. Part of the problem is their AT-style binding, so the X-Trace or (especially) a 3-pin binding might improve control.

The Hok Ski looks like a worthy successor.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Hok review on 12/14/2011 12:46:08 MST Print View

John and Keith, I'd be happy to answer questions not already addressed in the article. The relevance of mustaches to this discussion is unclear.

Ryan, you're correct about the Guide bevel issue. The same forum discussions have also extensively documented several fairly easy ways to fix it (though the Guide will never be a good ice ski).

Ryan, you're also correct that avalanche danger should be factored into route finding, and that winter routes can be quite different than summer ones. There are also plenty of occasions when that is not the case.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Rando Race Gear (again) on 12/14/2011 12:51:41 MST Print View

"John and Keith, I'd be happy to answer questions not already addressed in the article. The relevance of mustaches to this discussion is unclear."
-- I don't know if the reference to "John" is to me, and I don't know what the reference to "mustaches" is all about, but since my original inquiry appears to have been overlooked, I'll repeat it here:

"You dismiss rando race gear for backcountry touring applications, but exactly what modern rando race gear setups have you actually used that causes you to conclude that it would be worse that the reviewed gear for the kind of skiing described here?"
-- In other words, rando race gear is way lighter than the gear reviewed here, is way more efficient (with a resistance-free pivot + zero lifted binding weight on each stride), yet skis way better.

Kyle Meyer
(kylemeyer) - M

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: Rando Race Gear (again) on 12/14/2011 13:21:06 MST Print View

Jonathan — what about the fact that randonee ski setups are extraordinarily expensive to get down to the weights you're talking about, and even then I severely doubt larger skis, bigger bindings, more overbuilt ski boots and separate skins could ever be lighter than these small, unified ones.

This article was perfect timing as I am looking to purchase a set of snowshoes or a splitboard. I don't want to spend the money on a splitboard, and have been vacillating on the commitment for a while. Then this article pops up and shows that I can spend the same amount of money as the snowshoes I was looking at and still be able to have little bits of fun while out exploring rolling terrain or easy mountains. I won't be making huge turns down 45º terrain, but that's not what these are for. These are a snowshoe replacement that makes snowshoeing a bit more fun. And for that, I am very excited.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Even Cheap Used Rando Race Gear Is Way Lighter on 12/14/2011 13:39:07 MST Print View

My rando race setup (skis, skins, bindings, boots) weighs just under 8.5 pounds. (And that's with discontinued boots that are a full pound heavier than the current version of my boots.) Per pair. With that setup, I have excellent performance on the flats (compared to any slowshoe-like device), a range of fore-aft motion in the boot cuff that exceeds my own body's flexibility, a resistance-free pivot for striding, zero lift-lifted weight (as compared to that "universal" binding), and downhill performance that can ski nearly 50-degree couloirs.
By contrast, the Hok + 3-pin binding + telemark boots weighs over 11 pounds.
Putting together a used rando race setup on the cheap under 11 pounds would be relatively easy.
Would it still be more expensive? Yes, of course, but sometimes you get what you pay for -- and I don't see other threads in response to articles on the latest and greatest gear questioning what the point is since you can just buy cheap obsolete backpacking junk at Wal-Mart...

Kyle Meyer
(kylemeyer) - M

Locale: Portland, OR
Re: Even Cheap Used Rando Race Gear Is Way Lighter on 12/14/2011 14:21:58 MST Print View

On the contrary, BPL has always had an extremely strong interest in affordability. This is why there's a long history of MYOG articles and an active community centered around it. Randonee gear is orders of magnitude more expensive than snoeshoes and Hoks and doesn't have anything to do with backpacking unless you're also carrying your boots, which I'd wager most here wouldn't consider doing. There is definitely something to be said for equipment that balances function with economic reality (see also: Montbell).

The fact that you even mention 50º couloirs already makes you not the market for the Hoks. I can snowboard the hardest of double black diamond terrain, but that doesn't mean I expect that a snowshoe/ski hybrid should be able to carry me through this terrain as well. The fact remains that these are a simple, affordable tool for certain winter conditions and terrain that should interest people here.

Personally, I'm buying the universal bindings with the Hoks and will be trying them out with my snowboard boots for pure winter travel. I think this might be an interesting mix of lateral stiffness and enough flexibility to make this an effective pairing. This will allow me to retain the option of taking these on mixed condition backpacking trips in which I'll use them with my trailrunners. Win win?

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
weight is not an answer on 12/14/2011 14:22:12 MST Print View

Jon(athan);


While my reponse to your question was short and a bit facetious, it was at base accurate, something corroborated by your most recent posts. Yes your rando race setup is lighter than the one I used most with the Hoks. Putting cost aside (problematic, as most of us don't get free gear from our web reviewing gig), you've yet to answer the question of what performance gains your rig offers over mine, for the conditions discussed here.



[Edited to reflect the good behavior I ought to have had the sense to have from the first. My apologies to everyone.]

Edited by DaveC on 12/15/2011 11:38:55 MST.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
To reiterate once again the many rando race gear advantages... on 12/14/2011 14:52:11 MST Print View

"most of us don't get free gear from our web reviewing gig"
-- Sure wish I did though. I paid for all that gear myself. Granted I do get discounts as a ski patroller, avalanche safety instructor, and other credentials, but the gear is so great, it's worth paying for.

"you've yet to answer the question of what performance gains your rig offers over mine, for the conditions discussed here."
To reiterate my prior comments:
"excellent performance on the flats (compared to any slowshoe-like device), a range of fore-aft motion in the boot cuff that exceeds my own body's flexibility, a resistance-free pivot for striding, zero lift-lifted weight (as compared to that "universal" binding)"

As for your objections:
"-Your boots don't offer the bit of forward resistance which is often useful for bushwacking and the like."
-- You must have meant "bindings" not "boots"? If so, the occasional moments where some binding resistance is helpful is more than offset by having to drive with the parking brake on the *entire* tour.
"-The rigid sole of your boots makes blisters more likely (Kevin's rig is better than either of ours in this respect)."
-- I don't get blisters in my boots (which actually do have some forefoot flex). And this is even during multi-day hut tours in super-warm weather. Overall though, I think individual foot shape and boot fit trump any particular sole design for blister prevention (i.e., some people are going to blister in trail runners, while others will be fine even tromping around in alpine downhill boots).
"-Your bindings offer more moving parts to break (albiet with a good track record for durability)."
-- My rando race bindings have very few moving parts. And an excellent durability record. And for a long expedition, a binding "repair kit" comprising an entire binding toe & heel would weigh only five ounces.
"-Your skis are skinny, long, and have thoroughly conventional dimensions, thus offering none of the funky snow advantages of the Hoks."
-- My rando race setup (with fixed heel and supportive boots) skis far better in funky snow than the setup reviewed here.

Overall, any rando race setup is far better than the setup reviewed here on the up, on the down, and on the flats. The only rationale for the setup reviewed here is some combination of budgetary, ignorance, and exoticism. (Having read about the native skiers in the Altai, I have to admit that a ski based on their practices is kind of cool -- but I'd rather read about them than emulate them.)

spelt the enigmatic
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
hmm on 12/14/2011 17:30:02 MST Print View

I was not expecting this review to be contentious. The proof will be when the first production run of Hoks gets delivered and the people who're actually using them can give their assessments.

WV Hiker
(vdeal)

Locale: West Virginia
It's about the length and a thought on boots. on 12/15/2011 07:29:14 MST Print View

I think the point about randonee skis that Jonathan is avoiding is that they are long. The Hoks are short and thus much more maneuverable in tight backcountry locales. Randonee may work great out West but here in the East long skis are a liability. If you have to carry them then short wins around here also. Thank you David for the article. I ran onto the Hoks a few months ago and was pretty much sold. This article reinforces that.

As for boots that is still a question for me. I'm used to 3 pin Nordic Norm boots but they don't usually have the type of tread useful for backpacking and the toe protrusion can be annoying when hiking. I had thought about an interchangeable sole system boot. A currently existing system is made by Korkers that some of us fishermen use. Multiple soles are available and you can run a hiking sole for trips into backcountry streams and then switch to a studded or felt sole for wading. I was wondering if a 3 pin sole could be designed with enough rigidity to work the Hoks that could then be switched out for the hiking sole when needed.