Altai Skis: The Hok Ski and X-Trace Universal Binding Review
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Khader Ahmad
(337guanacos) - F

Locale: Pirineos, Sierra de la Demanda
@ Ross Re: Re: A niche market unrelated to BPL... on 12/19/2011 20:00:10 MST Print View

I believe this is the lightest set you could buy today (without skins or crampons):

DYNAFIT DY.N.A. Evo Boot: Held one last winter, they wouldn't let me use it though...
703grams actual weight on 28.5Mondo. Really cheap aprox 1000€ :( The tester told me it was one of the best downhill boots he had ever seen. Nice walker.

OR

Scarpa Alien, same weight same price. Never seen it.

OR

LaSportiva Stratos, wieght and price beyond my sources. This one seems the most expensive option (full carbon shell).


Ski Trab Race Areo World Cup boards: aprox 700g on 159cm 96/92/65/78mm 859€

DYNAFIT Low Tech Race Auto binding: 117g 700€

This is the lightest RACE PRO gear available outside of pro-teams. My set (used gear) was a bit less than 300€ Dinafit Broad Peak (170cm+-) with TLT speed bindings, crampons, mohair skins, brakes and lashes. My Boots are really old, Lasers and TLT3, maybe this season I'll get a good deal on used tlt5.

I had a pair of Hagan Dolphins 120cm with Silvretta 404 bindings I used for aproach when I was a clumsy alpinist, but they are also really heavy, I bought that for 100€ with crampons and skins a long time ago.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: @ Ross Rando Race Gear Weights on 12/19/2011 21:12:41 MST Print View

Wow! Really, I had no idea. OK, the boot weights are very good, but they don't surprise me that much. I had heard of things like that, and much of it makes sense. If you use a lot of plastic, you can make a lightweight boot. The big challenge is making it comfortable, especially for hiking. Lots of people say these are, but that varies person by person.

The really impressive thing are the skis. I double checked the weight, and that's what the website says (http://skitrab.com/en-au/c-5-ultra-light/1-race-areo-world-cup.html). I weigh about 150 pounds (give or take a beer or two) so I would probably get the longer ski. But at 720 grams, that is extremely light. Even the heaviest one is under 800 grams. The medium sized ski paired with the binding you mention weighs about 840 grams. To put things in perspective, that is just about what my Motion Crown ski (with binding weighs). In other words, a skinny ski I specifically bought to cruise around in the grooomed, because it is faster and lighter than my general purpose ski, weighs about the same as a metal edged ski with ten times the sidecut. Simply amazing.

Now, to be fair to the cross country world, I didn't buy cross country race skis. You can get cross country skis that weigh 500 grams, and bindings that weigh another 100, saving you over 100 grams over the Skitrab skis. Nonetheless, the Skitrab skis are amazing. It is basically like talking about bicycles and explaining that you prefer a nice light road bike since you just stick to the pavement, and then you pick up the guy's mountain bike and realize it is lighter than yours. No, you don't have an Italian racing bike, but still, it's a road bike (and a good one) yet the mountain bike is lighter. Crazy.

It also begs the question: I wonder if you could use plain cross country boots with those skis? The obvious answer is why bother. You would obviously get much better control with the boots you mention. Still, one of the reasons (I assume) that you get firmer boots when you get curvier skis is because of the weight. In other words, if you tried using regular cross country boots with a pair of Atomic Rainiers, your boots would get thrashed trying to move the skis around. I wonder if it is the sidecut, or the weight that matters?

If they weren't so expensive, I might experiment. As it is, I hope the price drops. It probably will. It is obvious that this is cutting edge engineering, and like a lot of cutting edge engineering, the price drops after a while (as long as other competitors keep up). This is really exciting stuff -- I appreciate the information.

Edited by rossbleakney on 12/19/2011 21:14:56 MST.

Khader Ahmad
(337guanacos) - F

Locale: Pirineos, Sierra de la Demanda
Re: Re: @ Ross Rando Race Gear Weights on 12/19/2011 22:36:24 MST Print View

Remember: that was the "standard" race gear, if you want to spend big bucks you might get the boots killian uses:

http://www.pierregignoux.fr/GB/PackUltimate.php

Atomic or Fish boards, atk, Haereo or kreuzspite bindings, Crazy jumpsuits.... weight goes down as fast as your money evaporates. Crazy world.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: Re: @ Ross Rando Race Gear Weights on 12/20/2011 08:18:13 MST Print View

It seems like there is a lot of competition in the boot market, even if the prices are really high. My guess is that this will eventually drop the price, at least for gear almost as light.

I'm curious about the skis. Do any of the really light skis have waxless bottoms? If not, I assume that they are designed for skins on the flats (no kick wax). I notice that a few companies sell some fairly carved skis with waxless bottoms. For example, Rossignol has a waxless ski with dimensions of 123-95-120. Fischer, Madshus and Alpina have similar skis.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
So maybe I really am repeating myself now... on 12/20/2011 15:49:21 MST Print View

I’ll admit that now I finally might very well be repeating myself, but to clarify the state-of-the-market in response to some recent posts:

Skis are all very similar (except for the even lighter Merelli models ... which have a very bad reputation for breaking) and weigh a bit over 3 pounds per pair at a bit over 160cm (unless you want to drop as low as 150cm for the women’s minimum, which will save even more weight and gain even more maneuverability in tight quarters). About half a dozen different models are available in the U.S. (way more in Europe), with the cheapest from Hagan and Dynafit (the “Race Performance” model). Cheap used rando skis can be found from Atomic for ~$100: TM:11, MX:11, MX:20.

No ultralight rando race skis are available with patterned bases (i.e., “fishscales” or the misleadingly termed “waxless”). Patterned-base skis are now available in a very wide variety of widths and lengths, and the weights although quite light is still much heavier than rando race skis.
For a rando race ski on lots of rolling terrain, kick wax would work okay (although not as well as on a true double-cambered ski of course). Kickers skins are another option (just keeping them on all the time) or super-skinny mohair skins (sometimes termed “runners”).

Bindings are cheap (~$200 used) if you take on extra weight and go with the non-race Dynafit Speed, but the older Dynafit Low Tech Race is now showing up on eBay fairly regularly (as elite racers upgrade their gear and as wannabe racers go through their equivalent of all the nice road bikes showing up for sale barely used b/c of Lance mania). Another good deal is trying to rack down last year’s Dynafit Low Tech Lite. This year’s Dynafit Low Tech Radical is reasonably affordable by alpine downhill standards if ordered from Europe (not available in North America for some odd reason), but it lacks a completely “flat” touring position, so probably not a good choice for more nordic-esque applications.
Weights vary from about a pound to half a pound, per pair, with mounting screws. And speaking of mounting, this is not for the do-it-yourselfer, unless you’re really good at this kind of work. (I’ve mounted four such pairs of bindings, but I’d had many years of experience with other Dynafit models.)

Boots are now at around three pounds per pair from four different companies (well, except for Merelli with a new custom boot at only . . . two pounds . . . per pair?!?). Near-race boots are available at around four pounds. But for more nordic-esque applications, I think the somewhat dated Scarpa F1 is preferable, especially with modifications:
http://www.wildsnow.com/2180/scarpa-f1-backcountry-skiing-boots/
... and the best part is that since it’s no longer used by rando racers, used prices are about $100 to $200, with good availability. (So in other words, blame the Euro rando race scene for increasingly the price of cutting-edge gear to crazy high levels, but also thank it for creating an affordable used market.)

As for how all this skis, compared to the skiing video footage at the Hok website, I’m able to ski about 4x as fast (in rando races when under time pressure!) on terrain much steeper with far trickier snow. (Yes, the skis are skinnier, but the 125cm length of the reviewed Hok is absurdly short for real skiing, and the lack of any rear cable or other support plus a severely hacked-up telemark boot can’t help matters much.) Here are some old pics from a glacier in the summer:
https://picasaweb.google.com/118364351379631769177/20080821ParadiseGlacier

On firm snow, this is just some mellow skiing, but I think the fairly precise short-radius turns convey the control the gear provides:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxwdZGAZK7g

Quoting a few prior posts:

“In other words, a skinny ski I specifically bought to cruise around in the groomed, because it is faster and lighter than my general purpose ski, weighs about the same as a metal edged ski with ten times the sidecut.”
– My rando race setup weighs significantly less than my nordic backcountry setup: as was said, it’s as if my mtn bike were to weigh less than my road bike...

“It also begs the question: I wonder if you could use plain cross country boots with those skis? The obvious answer is why bother.”
- Funny you should mention that, since each year I see a guy in this one rando race who does exactly that ... and I have exactly the same reaction when I see that setup! (Although I’ve never asked him why/how he came up with that combination.)

“If you use a lot of plastic, you can make a lightweight boot. The big challenge is making it comfortable, especially for hiking. Lots of people say these are, but that varies person by person.”
- Individual fit of course varies immensely. That said, if these boots fit you, they are quite comfy for tromping around. I spent a couple hours on Saturday with trailwork on a rando race backcountry ascent route, and although regular hiking boots would have been lighter, the near-race rando race boots (plastic lower shell, carbon fiber upper cuff) I had on were just as comfy. (And ditto for then hiking down the upper half of the ski area from the summit, which I had hoped would have more snow already made, ugh...)

BTW, at the other end of the spectrum, I see that Rossignol is coming out with a new “OT” version of its X5 nordic boot. For many nordic backcountry skiers, so-called “bar” bindings (i.e., NNN-BC or SNS-BC) are a very attractive option, but unfortunately the boots have really lagged behind the potential of the binding system, so nice to see what looks like an innovative model. (If you’re looking for used, I really like my old Salomon Raid boots - shame that they discontinued it.)

Michael Driscoll
(Hillhikerz) - M

Locale: Monterey Bay
Hok is probably great for a little winter snowplay fun... on 12/21/2011 22:05:31 MST Print View

just joined the site because of this article... read it the day it came out, and checked out the after posts, lively group... sooooo doing a honey do project for xmas, low and behold I have a pair of Hok's in the attic in the form of an old pair of water skis; a beautiful mahogany, nice upturn and trailing edge, bindings are right next to them in an old pair of funky snowshoes... sooooo I am thinking I got the flats and downhill covered just need a bit of help with skins for the uphill action... after looking around a bit decide on some worse for ware fishing nets, just Macgyver them on and away I go... I am headed up to see my 84 year old Mom for the holidays just down the street from Crater Lake... am thinking at the very least a couple screws, bicycle inner-tubes and go for a walk in the woods... what can go really wrong right... any way Happy Holidays to you all... loving the site & learning a lot...

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Hok is probably great for a little winter snowplay fun... on 12/22/2011 09:25:32 MST Print View

The nets will turn your skis into snowshoes, because they're not going to slide. (Unless you were going to make them removable?)

You might watch eBay for a week or two and try to pick up some used "climbing skins" (particularly "Ascension"; there's usually some of the original stock available cheap). It doesn't matter if the skins have sticky glue on the bottom or not, because you're going to want to buy a can of strong glue to make the bond permanent. Then you'll have the same glide-down climb-up capability that's built into the Hok skis. You can experiment with how much of the bottom to cover with skin, to balance slide and grip. (Be sure you put the fur on the right direction!) The Karhu Karver has a 32in x 3.25in skin, and the Meta has a 28in x3.75in skin, so about 104 in^2 is probably a good start.

If you've got a chisel or router, it's probably worth cutting in the leading curved edge of the skin, and maybe even putting in a plate and some screws, to prevent the leading edge from being pulled away from the ski base by snow friction.

Edited by Otter on 12/22/2011 09:30:05 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: water skis on 12/22/2011 12:50:00 MST Print View

Michael, that's a great idea. The lack of metal edges is something to keep in mind, but not a big deal in many cases. If you can think of a way to recess the skin all the way around, that would help with longevity. On the other hand, attaching and removing a skin in the normal fashion would be quick and easy and a good way to get acquainted with the setup to see if it will work.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: So maybe I really am repeating myself now... on 12/26/2011 12:21:07 MST Print View

I decided to create another thread that more generally discusses ski gear, as opposed to this review (or this product). I figure that if someone is interested in some of the items discusses, they may decide to search in "Winter Hiking" section, in which case, they would miss out on some of the useful information here. So, that post is here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=57332
and it starts with my comments on Jonathan's last comments. I decided not to copy his comments, but I reference his last comment (which would allow anyone to get to all of the comments).

As to this product, I ordered it, along with the universal bindings. I'll use some other bindings with it as well, but I'll start with that. The next step is to somehow attach some ski crampons, or something similar. When I get to that point, I'll probably start a new thread in Gear, or MYOG. My hope is that with ski crampons, or rope, or something like that, I'll be able to use the Hoks wherever I would normally use snowshoes.

Paul Cernak
(Cernak) - F

Locale: North Cascades
NNN or NNNBC bindings.... on 12/27/2011 15:41:34 MST Print View

Thank you David for the excellent review!
I'm on the lookout for my first ski setup and like most here, interested in a system that is as lightweight as possible.
For this reason (as well as price and hike-ability) I'm interested in boots with NNNBC bindings. You don't recommend the NNN bindings on the Hok because they have a tendency to break with such a wide ski. Does this include NNNBC bindings? My understanding is that NNNBC bindings are a bit bigger (wider and larger diameter post) therefore more robust.

Cheers,

Paul

Forrest G McCarthy
(forrestmccarthy) - MLife

Locale: Planet Earth
Nordic Mountaineering on 12/27/2011 23:06:05 MST Print View

Jonathan - Open your mind. AT gear has its advantages as does Nordic gear. What is best depends on your objective and skill level. What a boring world it would be if we all skied on the same gear in the same way.

Catch me if you can - http://teton.outerlocal.com/skiing/nordic-mountaineering-outpost

or Tim Kelley - http://crust.outlookalaska.com/index_about.htm

or Andrew Skurka - http://youtu.be/oZUaa9SjuMM

Great article Dave. We need to get out skiing together. You will like my latest version of Fast Shoes.

Onward,

Edited by forrestmccarthy on 12/27/2011 23:50:15 MST.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Open your mind to the post Steve Barnett era... on 12/28/2011 07:09:54 MST Print View

I long ago opened my mind to nordic backcountry touring gear. I even still own such gear. But then I opened my mind to ultralight rando racing gear. (Well, first it had to come into existence, then I had to learn about it, and finally I had to buy it.)

That kind of gear in your TR certainly made sense back in the era of Steve Barnett's impressive tours (well, impressive for their day and the gear limitations), but as your own TR notes, most of your original ski mountaineering partners have long-since switched to the "light and well-engineered" Dynafit and other "Tech"-style bindings, both touring and racing. (But BTW, the 3-pin weight savings of a couple ounces per foot as compared to a rando race binding will be offset in the touring efficiency after just a short amount of resistance-free strides.) And you admit to being "envious of the new ultra-light randonee [sic] racing boots."

As for your link to Tim Kelley, I already referenced that in an earlier post of mine. ("The only exception to the superiority of rando race gear for BPL’s "lightweight wilderness travel" is xc skate gear under certain conditions in the Eastern Sierra and AK (although that requires excellent fitness, technique, and route planning).")

Joe Anderson
(joeski4life) - F
LLBean Boreal on 12/29/2011 09:33:09 MST Print View

Dave (& others),

Given that you've shared your experiences with the Marquette BC and the Altai Hok, I'm wondering if anyone has any experience/feedback/comments on LL Bean's Boreal Sliding Snowshoes. As you pointed out, I have concerns about the durability of the permanent skin on the Hok, and like the idea of the positrack "scaled" base (similar to the Marquette) combined with the metal edges (like the Hok). Not a fan of the Berwin bindings, but I'd imagine these would be a little more functional with a 3-pin setup. Similar price range ($225 w/o bindings) to the Marquette and Hok, with some of the best features of both. LL Bean used to sell some of the Karhu's (see below), but they've since exited the market. I think these may be manufactured by Rossignol.

I was tossing around the idea of doing either snowshoes or XC skis this winter to entertain my dog add some variety to my winter sports (downhill has always been my go-to, but I did XC quite a bit growing up), and these 3 products look like an interesting alternative, but I can't decide which to go with!

http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/68748?feat=66735-ppxs&dds=y
LL Bean Boreal Sliding Snowshoes:
LL Bean Boreal Sliding Snowshoes



Old LLBean/Karhu:
Discontinued LLBean Karhu

Edited by joeski4life on 12/29/2011 09:35:20 MST.

joe newton
(holdfast)

Locale: Bergen, Norway
Yet another viewpoint... on 12/29/2011 09:38:06 MST Print View

This is Forrest McCarthy's take on the mini ski set-up:

http://forrestmccarthy.blogspot.com/2011/12/fast-shoes-lightest-binding-is-no.html

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: LLBean Boreal on 12/29/2011 11:14:50 MST Print View

I would say that the Altai Skis have one big advantage over the Karhu/LL Bean skis: easily adaptable bindings. You can get several plates that you can then mount different bindings to. Apparently, it is easy to switch between bindings at that point. So, for example, you could spend a winter day with Altai skis and 3 pin (or BC or Telemark) boots. Then in the Spring, you could easily switch to the universal bindings on a day when you want to carry the skis, but not the boots.

As to the strength or weakness of the universal bindings, I haven't tried the bindings on the Altai. I have used the Berwin bindings. I wore them with fairly stiff mid-length boots. I found the bindings (with those boots) to be fairly supportive, but not very flexible. In other words, I could turn really well, but couldn't glide. Some of that could have been the skis (which were short Skiboards). My brother decided to take the bindings and attach them to a block of wood along with a hinge. After adding a bumper and some other niceties, he managed to crank out a very nice setup. I would say it is comparable to McCarthy's setup; I think it has better glide and control, but at a substantial cost in weight.

I write about the whole saga here: http://tinyurl.com/3qrkd8l (this includes a link to my brother's project in the "Success (but not by me)" section).

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
No Bindings on 01/16/2012 23:04:21 MST Print View

I am really digging McCarthy's setup. I wonder how hoks with fortybelow overboots screwed to the base will work. Probably some reinforcement under the rubber sole may be required. I am thinking 1.5 oz cuben fiber bonded to inside of the sole should prevent the rubber from tearing. Any better ideas?

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
reinventing the wheel ... but worse on 01/17/2012 07:43:53 MST Print View

"I am really digging McCarthy's setup."
-- What aspect of it? I ran the numbers for his overboots and hardware as compared to xc classic race boots and bindings, and in return for the lack of any striding pivot and far reduced skiing control (as well as highly suspect durability), the weight savings are somewhere on the order of just a few ounces, so an utter failure in both efficiency and fun.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
fun a quantitative property? on 01/17/2012 14:26:32 MST Print View

No.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Agreed, fun is not quantifiable... on 01/17/2012 14:29:24 MST Print View

... but my point is that cross country skiing with overboots screwed into skis (as opposed to using cross country ski boots and bindings) entails both a lack of any striding pivot and a significant reduction in skiing control that sure seems like a lot less fun.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Agreed, fun is not quantifiable... on 01/17/2012 14:47:22 MST Print View

I think the advantage of the overboot setup is that it is:

1) Cheap
2) Can work with hiking boots

If you are too cheap to get a good universal binding, then the overboot should work (if it doesn't break). The advantage of an universal binding is that you don't have to use ski boots. This means that if you don't own a pair of (cross country or other) ski boots, but you already own hiking boots, you can save yourself even more money. It also means that you don't have to either carry your ski boots, or worry about whether they are comfortable to hike in (or whether you might damage them in some way).

As previously mentioned, though, a lot of ski boots are very comfortable for hiking. In general, the overboot would not be my choice, but if you like to tinker around and want to save money, it is probably the cheapest way to go (assuming you already have hiking boots and can get overboots for cheap). Worth mentioning is that lots of people have tried this approach, but only a few have succeeded (and bully for the folks that have).

In general, though, using cross country gear does sound like a lot more fun. I think most people would agree (just as most people would say going to the dentist is not fun, even though that isn't quantifiable either).