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An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 09:41:05 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear

ROBERT TANGEN
(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Releasable means fewer broken legs on 12/12/2012 15:39:41 MST Print View

The Dynafit bindings are releasable, hence a safer binding, yes?

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
My Gear on 12/12/2012 17:46:29 MST Print View

Thanks for a well written and nicely illustrated introduction to the subject.

Over the years of XC racing, touring and Nordic patrolling I've owned everything from wooden Bonna skis to aluminum honeycomb core K2 (yes, K2) classic racing skis to Fischer skate skis.

But for backcountry I have 2 pair:

BC TOURING:
SKIS>Osnes Norwegian Army skis, 210 cm. (exclusively at Neptune Mt'neering. Boulder, CO)
BOOTS> Vasque heavy leather 3 pin
BINDINGS> Voile release type 3 pin

BC AT:

SKIS> Atomic TM 22 190 cm.
BOOTS> Scarpa T3
BINDINGS> Again, Voile release type, pins ground off

My BC SKI PACK is a heavily midified CamelBak Commander camo hunting pack - 2.500 cc. - (New aluminum stays, REI padded hip belt, bottom straps, side pockets, etc., etc.) With this pack I can carry enough to be "almost comfortable" if stranded overnight plus my avy gear, always my avy gear.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Enjoyed the article! on 12/12/2012 18:26:32 MST Print View

I loved the article..of course Nordic Backcountry is my favorite type of skiing. :)

My Nordic setup is very similar to Eric's (I use the civilian version of the Asnes skis, Crispi touring boots, Voile bindings) and I love it for covering distance but still having basic turn capability.

My tele setup is beefier (K2 Waybacks, Scarpa T2 boots), but it is Nordic backcountry I love the most for reasons listed in the article.


Now, I need to get out there for a few winter overnighters soon. :)

(Though I do have a 10th Mtn Division hut trip over Christmas... )

Edited by PaulMags on 12/12/2012 18:31:17 MST.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
AT gear can be far lighter than the chosen examples... on 12/12/2012 18:35:47 MST Print View

“Nordic Touring Example” = 6.2 lb
“Nordic Backcountry Example” = 9.8 lb
“Lighter AT Example (but can be as little as 12 pounds)” = 15.5 lb
My lightest AT setup = 5.9 pounds (w/ skins)

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 18:52:12 MST Print View

Robert wrote: "The Dynafit bindings are releasable, hence a safer binding, yes?"

There are releasable tele bindings as well, but they tend to be about a pound heavier than their non-releasable counterparts. You have to make your own risk assessment. Personally, I use a releasable tele binding (7tm) for inbounds skiing where weight isn't a concern and I'm more likely to ski aggressively. I use a non-releasable binding in the backcountry to save weight, but I ski really carefully.

Tele proponents will claim the added lower extremity mobility afforded by the free heel makes injury less likely than with a locked down heel. YMMV.

Jonathan wrote: "My lightest AT setup = 5.9 pounds (w/ skins)"

That is impressively light. What are the components of your setup?

Cheers,

Mike

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 19:04:54 MST Print View

Mike, the uptrack in that photo should've gone straight up the hill, man! * wink wink *

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
All "SkiMo" gear is basically the same weight... on 12/12/2012 19:05:14 MST Print View

"Jonathan wrote: "My lightest AT setup = 5.9 pounds (w/ skins)"
That is impressively light. What are the components of your setup?"

-- Those are the specs for my Hagan + Dynafit + Dynafit setup (plus some old BD mohair skins, with full-length skins adding another four oz per pair, although that makes the comparison with patterned-base xc skis kind of pointless).
-- But all rando/"skimo" gear is basically the same now for weight, as the differences among them are less than the pair-to-pair variances.
-- The latest state-of-the-art is summarized here (click one of the three tabs at the top to switch among skis, boots, and bindings):
http://www.skintrack.com/bindings-comparison/
-- If you pay full retail for the very latest and lightest, then yes, they're pricey. But with so much new gear coming out lately, the only slightly heavier models from just a few years ago are now relatively inexpensive on the used market. (And that slightly heavier gear was already winning the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse *nordic* race years ago, which says a lot about the superior efficiency of AT gear over nordic gear on nordic terrain.)
-- It is a shame though that while racing improves nordic track/skate gear and AT gear, there's just no market for lightweight efficient nordic backcountry gear. I still enjoy using my nordic backcountry gear for golf courses and mellow hiking trails, etc., but my AT gear is lighter than my nordic backcountry gear...

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 21:23:41 MST Print View

> The incredible beauty of the winter landscape is undeniable.
Absolutely, totally and utterly!

We used to use classic Scarpa leather 3-pin boots on Bonner Conquests with voile plates or better, but outgrew the boots (badly) while Scarpa were having their 'no more leather boots' period of idiocy. So Sue & I went to NNN-BC bindings and boots and matching skis. Compared to the Bonners, which were dead straight, went like a rocket, and didn't know anything about corners, the side cut on our current skis is very pleasant. And they don't go much slower either.

Wonderful stuff.

Cheers

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 22:58:48 MST Print View

Excellent article. When I describe Nordic and backcountry ski gear, I start by comparing it to biking. You can get a road bike or a mountain bike or a bike that is something in between. You can put knobby tires on your road bike, or smooth tires on your mountain bike, but why bother? Some very expensive mountain bikes are probably lighter than your average road bike, even though they are capable of handling much tougher terrain. The same is true of skis.

Of course, it is tougher with skis because you have so many variables. Not only do you have to deal with the terrain (steep, narrow, forested, etc.) but also the quality of the snow. For the Northwest, I find that a light cross country ski with some sidecut and no metal edge is often just fine for logging roads and moderate backcountry terrain. I use a Fischer Inbound Crown (68-58-64). Since it is light, I use a regular cross country boot (non BC) with it. Unlike in the Rockies, the snow around here often consolidates really quickly. This means that I usually don't need the extra floatation. I've even done some backcountry skiing with my classic (long and skinny) cross country skis and handled it just fine. The terrain was easy (step turning was fine) and the snow was solid enough to support me.

If I think it will be crusty or icy, I will switch to a metal edged ski. Since the metal edged skis I own have a bit more sidecut and weight, I move up in boot class, to a Nordic BC boot when I use these (they are intended for tougher terrain). I'm sure there are folks who mix and match different classes of boots with skis, but in general, I think it is harder to use a light boot with a heavy ski than the other way around. You could certainly use a heavy boot with a light (straight) ski since that is essentially what people used to do not too long ago. In other words, if you took a an Alpine boot and binding and attached it to Fischer S-Bound you would probably look a lot like a skier from forty years ago (before the radical sidecut and wide body skis became popular).

That doesn't mean that the bigger skis don't have there place. Just the other day I saw my brother ski down a small chute with Telemark gear and a pair of Rossignol BC 125 skis. The skis are big and fat (125-90-115). There are fatter skis out there, but few of them have the fish scales like these. Which brings up a couple of points. First, skis with fish scales are way handier in the Northwest than waxing. On the west side (AKA wet side) of the mountains, the temperature is often a few degrees either side of freezing, and it will change during the day. This makes waxing a real pain. In the Methow (on the east side of the Cascades) folks still use kick wax (and go very fast with it). Second, there are several fish scale (or waxless) skis that are rather large, and are pretty new. Since this article: http://www.backcountrymagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=577&Itemid=54 was published, Viole has come out with a couple skis in this category. These are light (for their surface area) and have a lot of floatation, without a huge amount of sidecut. I haven't tried, but I would imagine trying to use any of these big waxless skis with a BC boot would be very difficult. I think using these requires Telemark or Randonee gear. The ski I use for the steepest terrain I encounter is the Alpina Lite Terrain. It has a lot of sidecut (102-64-87) but is narrow enough in the waist to allow me to use BC boots. I have yet to find a pair of plastic (Randonee or Telemark) boots that I find comfortable, but I haven't tried many.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/12/2012 23:01:46 MST Print View

Nice article. As a backcountry ski tourer, I can attest that it is great fun once you know what you're doing. I ski in areas that are full of people in the summer and see no one for a week. And you definitely do not have to be a good skier to enjoy it. I do not consider myself to be a good skier and yet I was able to cross the Sierra on skis. So ski skill is not important. What you do need to be good at is navigation. That is the critical skill, since trails and roads are buried under many feet of snow. Plus, of course, snow camping skills.

Gear - There is a lot of room for overlap in various directions. There is no reason you can't put Dynafit bindings on a lightweight ski with fishscales if you want to(though this won't work on all skis due to variations in core construction and screw holding abilities). Some folks even ski with just the Dynafit toe pieces on lightweight skis. My rig is Atomic Rainers - very similar to Fischer S-bound 88's or Salomon XADV 89's - 3-pin bindings and Garmont Excursion boots (the lightest of the plastic tele boots). I could save a pound or more by going to Dynafits and light rando race boots - and have more downhill control. Though maybe not as good in rolling terrain.

My experience has been that a light ski with a somewhat stiffer boot can work really well, while the reverse is not so good, especially when carrying a multi-day pack. I think this is especially true for less experienced/skilled skiers; broadly speaking, a lighter, more flexible boot means faster while a heavier, stiffer boot means more control, so if in doubt go with the slightly beefier boot. With more experience and/or skill you can do more with less.

I've had my skis in terrain that I guess would be considered in the framework of this article as ski mountaineering terrain, and yet, as I said, I am not a good skier. If I were a better skier I could do even more with the gear I have. So a fairly light setup can do quite a lot. I would like to go lighter on the boots, but I have yet to hear good things about any leather or fabric/leather boot as regards staying dry for a week in wet spring corn snow, so I stick with the light plastic. But the skis I am very happy with. I think a ski like the ones I have is just about ideal for the ski backpacker, which is what I think of myself as. I don't go to the mountains to ski, I ski to go to the mountains.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: All "SkiMo" gear is basically the same weight... on 12/12/2012 23:14:20 MST Print View

Jonathan wrote:
"It is a shame though that while racing improves nordic track/skate gear and AT gear, there's just no market for lightweight efficient nordic backcountry gear. I still enjoy using my nordic backcountry gear for golf courses and mellow hiking trails, etc., but my AT gear is lighter than my nordic backcountry gear..."

I agree completely. I'm afraid so much of it is racing oriented, and no one has come up with a race that makes sense for the Nordic backcountry equipment. Or rather, a Nordic backcountry race is simply won by folks using Randonee gear now. Maybe if they had lots of rolling hills (which would require transition) but banned skate skiing, but still had a few steep hills (which would require more than Nordic track gear) then maybe fast BC gear would stand a chance. If nothing else, it might drive folks to add waxless patterns to some of those really light skis. Just doing that would be great. Waxless skis are great for touring as well as yoyo skiing.

Great link, by the way.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: BC skiing on 12/13/2012 08:09:39 MST Print View

Nice work gents.

I do not think that the amount of camber when un-weighted is an accurate way to assess functional camber when skiing. Some skis with comparable amounts of arch compress in very different ways. The paper test is here still valid.

The Grand Traverse would be a better example for debate if it wasn't won, always, by the same ~dozen CB/Gunny locals who have the course absolutely dialed.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: An Introduction to Nordic and Backcountry Ski Gear on 12/13/2012 08:30:29 MST Print View

I agree Paul, a skinnier ski with a firm boot can work really well. A soft boot and a fat ski is a challenge. I have a pair of Rainiers as well, and use them with BC boots for a great all around Nordic setup. Browsing the link that Jonathan mentioned (http://www.skintrack.com/skis-comparison/) suggests that plenty of folks are racing with skis not too different than that (other than weight and fish scales). The Rainiers are 88-60-78, and there are plenty of skis in that range on that website. In other words, pairing the Rainiers with Randonee boots would work well. Of course, they might not have as much float as you want, or be as easy to turn as you want, but they will certainly cruise and carve. As you mention, you could easily go with skinnier or straighter skis as long as you can mount the bindings.

scott Nelson
(nlsscott) - MLife

Locale: So. Calif.
Nice to see Backcountry Touring Interest on 12/13/2012 11:18:11 MST Print View

Great Article,
It is great to see so much interest in backcountry touring. Judging by all the magazines, you would think that skiing away from a downhill resort only involves throwing yourself off a cliff, or descending a chute that Yvon Chouinard did the first ice climb of. There is little coverage of anyone using skis to have an adventure in the backcountry. I remember the days of Allan Bard, Ned Gillete, and Doug Robinson inspiring the rest of us duffers to go see the world in snow. Maybe with more attention, the gear would advance. Thanks, Scott

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
AT gear = bindings + boots, paired with any skis on 12/13/2012 11:46:45 MST Print View

“Browsing the link that Jonathan mentioned (http://www.skintrack.com/skis-comparison/) suggests that plenty of folks are racing with skis not too different than that (other than weight and fish scales). The Rainiers are 88-60-78, and there are plenty of skis in that range on that website. In other words, pairing the Rainiers with Randonee boots would work well. Of course, they might not have as much float as you want, or be as easy to turn as you want, but they will certainly cruise and carve. As you mention, you could easily go with skinnier or straighter skis as long as you can mount the bindings.”

– Yes, as much as I love my various wider skis, something in the mid 60s or so (i.e., rando race / SkiMo width) is really all you need for practical efficient travel, regardless of conditions. Anything wider than that is for more fun on the down, not for faster and/or more efficient travel overall. (Sure all sorts of unconsolidated snow conditions are really unpleasant on narrower skis, but any time losses on such descent are more than offset by gains on the rest of the tour.)

– This also highlights the misleading nature of the various examples, which pair heavier wider skis with AT gear. Sure, that’s typical of what’s out there in common use, but BPL articles on, say, tents, don’t take the same approach (e.g., using WalMart-weight gear for selected categories). The only common element of an AT setup is the ability to lock the heel for the descent, and that’s as light as about nine ounces for bindings (per pair), with boots that weigh less than either SNS-BC or NNN-BC that offer only a small fraction of the control.

– Even worse is the telemark example, which uses lighter skis than the AT example, despite if anything AT boots & bindings allowing for a lighter ski, not a heavier ski. (As for highlighting a ski from a company that went out of business over nine years ago, well...)

- Also, the “Standard AT Example” is not standard at all but rather is based around a hybrid/sidecountry binding that is instant obsolescence for anyone interested in getting into backcountry skiing, even the touring-for-turns type.

“The Grand Traverse would be a better example for debate if it wasn't won, always, by the same ~dozen CB/Gunny locals who have the course absolutely dialed.”
– The fastest racers there now use SkiMo / AT race gear. Before everyone used nordic backcountry gear. They switched because SkiMo gear became better (as well as more widely available in the U.S.) while nordic backcountry gear has stagnated. Why does the same people winning it have any relevance, especially when nordic backcountry gear used to win the race? (This is kind of akin to if the only choices for trail running races were heavy hiking boots versus pavement running shoes, but the pavement running shoes - once adopted - always won the trail running races.)

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
skinny sticks on 12/13/2012 13:46:22 MST Print View

While some XCD skis may be dimensionally similar to rando race sticks, the difference in flex between the two is typically pretty enormous. Even a stiffer XCD ski like a Fischer or Rossi is much softer tip-tail than the rando skis I've seen (Dynafit, Trab, Merelli).

If you were to design a course where nordic and AT gear were evenly matched, the Grand Traverse would be pretty close. Certainly the closest established race course of which I'm aware. To have a fair comparision, you'd need evenly matched teams on different ski systems. Problem is that the night start gives locals a huge advantage, and thus the realistic chances of outsiders mounting a challenge in our hypothetical is small. 2008 was the first year it was won (in the men's division) on rando gear, in pretty gnarly conditions. The winning co-ed pair was an hour slower (10 hrs v. 9), had little familiarity with the course, and used combi boots and edgeless classic race skis.

Something to think about, i.e. lets mind the details and compare apples to apples.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: skinny sticks on 12/13/2012 21:15:11 MST Print View

A little elaboration on DaveC's point about flex difference between rando race skis and XCD - the rando race skis are downhill skis - their flex is not designed for kick and glide efficiency. So for tours in rolling terrain and/or with significant flat sections, they would probably not be as good as an XCD ski with a more XC kind of camber/flex - given equal boots/bindings. I know I have certainly wished for one of those light rando race skis to be available with a patterned base (like I could afford it if it was!) simply because they are so light, but in actuality for most of my skiing an XCD kind of flex is probably more efficient.

John Yates
(yates) - M
Kick wax on Tele skis on 12/13/2012 23:02:46 MST Print View

I'm puzzled that you don't mention waxing tele skis with kick wax. In fact you say "[tele skis] are designed to go steeply up or down but they are not as efficient for touring on level to moderate terrain. You can tour with them but you have to do it with skins on..." Not true. Kick wax works very well on tele skis in rolling terrain. I almost always wax my tele skis with Swix Polar kick wax as a base wax on the entire base and then add softer wax as necessary.

Also, I think you over estimate the importance of a wax pocket for skiing on unconsolidated snow. Having a wax pocket and/or a double camber ski is really only useful on a firm track. On unconsolidated snow the ski doesn't bend with each stride to make the wax pocket contact the snow. What works very well is to wax the entire ski with kick wax, usually the same wax along the whole ski.

Very few of the people I see out touring for turns on tele skis use kick wax, even in rolling terrain where it would be much more efficient. I have a friend who boasts that he has never put kick wax on his tele skis, even as the rest of us wait for him to sidestep up gentle inclines that we have just walked up. I think he believes that kick wax would ruin his glide, but unless you are seriously over waxed, this just isn't true.

Thanks for the article; except for the above comments, I thought it is very good.

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Kick wax on Tele skis on 12/13/2012 23:17:41 MST Print View

The photo in the article where I'm pulling a pulk was taken on an 11-day trip in YNP with Chris Townsend, among others. Chris is a master at ski waxing and carries a variety of waxes with the usual assorted tools (scraper, cork, IR thermometer, etc.). During that trip, he and several of our group did exactly as you described -- grip wax on conventional tele skis -- with excellent results.

Personally, I've had mixed success with waxable XC skis and miserable failures with grip wax on tele skis. Part of my problem is that I ski a lot in warm and variable snow conditions that make waxing tricky, but most of it is just my ineptitude with wax. I frequently bring along a wax kit for my tele setup, but have never been able to reproduce Chris' success with it, eventually throwing my arms up in disgust and putting the skins back on. I'm certain many could do better than I.

Cheers,

-Mike

Edited by MikeMartin on 12/13/2012 23:18:35 MST.

Roman Vazhnov
(joarr) - MLife

Locale: Russia
Re: All "SkiMo" gear is basically the same weight... on 12/14/2012 03:28:27 MST Print View

"...gear was already winning the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse *nordic* race years ago, which says a lot about the superior efficiency of AT gear over nordic gear on nordic terrain."

Jonathan, can you describe the conditions of the race and the gear for such races a little further? Were the racers using grip wax on AT skis? Or using skate skiing? What were the reasons of using AT gear (may be to lose on flat section and then to win on downhill)? Or there is no flat section?

Edited by joarr on 12/14/2012 04:20:32 MST.

Hendrik Morkel
(skullmonkey) - MLife

Locale: Finland
Madshus Glittertind MGV+ Skis on 12/14/2012 04:49:08 MST Print View

Here's my take on the Madshus Glittertind MGV+ Skis as well as a lot of photos of it.

Sunset 'n' Skis

Edited by skullmonkey on 12/14/2012 04:53:17 MST.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Kick Wax on Single-Camber Skis on 12/14/2012 07:47:45 MST Print View

Yes, non-locals and others not familiar with the EMGT course are at a disadvantage. However, I don’t see how this has any relevance to the nordic vs alpine touring gear differential? The most striking disadvantage in recent years has actually been visited upon non-local SkiMo racers. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to be competitive – local or otherwise – has switched to alpine touring gear for this prominent nordic terrain race.

The reason is obvious is you have any familiarity with modern lightweight alpine touring gear. Unfortunately the authors of this article clearly lack such familiarity, most tellingly in the statement of “Lighter AT Example (but can be as little as 12 pounds)” even though my lightest setup is almost HALF that purported lower bound.

Setting aside the weights of skis (since that is not specific to AT boots and bindings), nordic backcountry boots (both those in the article, and my own pair too) weight *MORE* than modern AT race boots. And what do you get in return for that extra weight? Slightly *LESS* resistance-free range of motion while striding, and far far *LESS* control when skiing down (even w/o bothering to lock down the AT binding heel). AT bindings also weigh less than nordic backcountry bindings, but that differential is smaller and also less important (since static weight gliding along on the snow is far less important that the weight on your foot that must be pivoted with each stride).

Given that lighter weight and superior efficiency of modern lightweight AT gear, no surprise that it dominates a race that was previously the domain of nordic backcountry gear.

As for kick wax, the terminology of “tele” skis is not very helpful (since any ski to which a telemark binding is mounted becomes a tele ski, and skis marketed specifically as telemark are almost always just rebadged alpine downhill skis, sometimes lightened and/or softened, and but sometimes just different graphics). Really we’re talking about double camber versus camber-and-a-half versus single camber. And even the latter category has significant variation: my old Atomic MX:20 AT skis had very noticeable camber, perhaps even venturing into camber-and-a-half territory, whereas my Movement Fish-X skis have very less, and my Hagan X-Race even less.

Obviously kick wax works far better with double camber skis, since that’s the whole point of double camber skis. But kick wax can also work with single camber skis – not as well, but it works. I’ve used it with single camber skis, and it makes a noticeable improvement. (Nailing the right wax is of course another issue altogether, but that's the same challenge regardless of the type of ski.)

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: grand traverse on 12/14/2012 08:53:38 MST Print View

Yellowstone in the heart of winter is the easiest place for kick wax I can think of.


Roman, the Grand Traverse is a 40 mile route between Crested Butte and Aspen. You can see a map here; http://westelkproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/GT_Map-823x1024.jpg It's a great summer or winter route, very scenic.

There's not much outright flat, but there's a lot of gentle climbing on snowed in roads and snowmachine tracks. There are some steep downhills in there as well, but if old memory serves none save the final descent (down the ski area in Aspen) are much more than 1000 vertical feet. The local hard guys have for the last 5 years been running skimo gear and nearly full coverage mohair skins. The final ridge from Barnard to the ski area is a rolling ridge which forces anyone to make compromises with it's frequent transitions. Folks on AT gear skate the ups when conditions are good, keep skins on for the downs and skin the ups, or occasionally just bootpack the ups and ski the downs.

John Yates
(yates) - M
Re: Kick wax on Tele skis on 12/14/2012 10:15:51 MST Print View

Waxing for warm and/or variable conditions is indeed a challenge, and I use a pair of waxless skis or go where skins make sense when conditions make waxing hard. In particular, waxless skis work well enough on refrozen spring snow that I've given up using klister altogether.

It's important to point out, though, that for dry, cold, new snow, waxing is not very hard to learn and in those conditions a well waxed ski works very much better that a waxless ski: both the glide and grip are better.

I don't know whether you meant to imply this, but I inferred from "I've had mixed success with waxable XC skis and miserable failures with grip wax on tele skis" that you think waxing works less well on tele skis than on waxable XC skis. As far as I know a square inch of p-tex with the right wax on it works as well on a waxable XC ski as a tele ski, with exception of a double camber ski on a good track, which will work better than a single camber ski (which is what tele skis are).

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Religious debate on 12/14/2012 11:11:02 MST Print View

Wow..this is ALMOST as good as what type of water treatment to use. ;)


Going skiing this weekend....never occurred to me have an intense debate over what skis to use first. :D

(Now, what beer to get after..that's cause for intense discussion!)

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Skis on 12/14/2012 12:05:30 MST Print View

I believe the big Fischers and Rossignols have a bit of camber, but that isn't true of all the big waxless skis. I have a pair of Alpina Lite Terrain skis that have very little (if any) camber. They basically feel like (and probably are) Alpine skis with a waxless bottom. I think the Viole waxless skis are basically the same as their other back country skis, only with waxless bottom.

I would love to be able to buy a pair of the really light skis in a waxless bottom. I wouldn't expect them to glide as well as my motion crown (which are skinny skis with plenty of camber) or my Rainiers (which are much wider but still have some camber). I would expect them to perform (on the flats) as well as my Alpina Lite Terrain skis. They would certainly be faster than skins (which is what I see a lot of people using). When ascending using a waxless (or kick waxed) bottom, you often make a lot of switchbacks (more than you would if you put on your skins). A light ski makes a big difference on every turn. More than anything, that is what I notice when I switch from my Inbound Crown (which are lighter than my Rainiers) to my Alpina Lite Terrain. The lack of good kick and glide is less than ideal, but my main complaint is the weight.

I could try buying a pair of those light skis and applying kick wax, but in my climate, I doubt I would be happy. The temperature always seems to hover around freezing. I rarely see people doing this. On roads where I cruise up via my waxless skis, I see other folks skinning the whole way. This means they are unlikely to ski the chute I mentioned earlier. The chute was essentially a cut of a switchback (perfectly legal in the winter :)). My brother, skiing his BC 125s, skied the chute, then got back on the road and cruised up to where he started. It is highly unlikely that a skier who needed skins for the road would do that (it would be just too much hassle to remove the skins, ski, then put them on again). There are similar example all over the place in the back country as well. While going downhill I can make turns down a nice little bowl and not worry about the fact that I have to climb back up. Meanwhile, the guys with the flat bottom skis stay up high on the ridge and avoid any possible uphill (or even flat).

Michael Martin
(MikeMartin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: North Idaho
Re: Kick wax on Tele skis on 12/14/2012 12:21:41 MST Print View

John wrote: "Waxing for warm and/or variable conditions is indeed a challenge, and I use a pair of waxless skis or go where skins make sense when conditions make waxing hard. In particular, waxless skis work well enough on refrozen spring snow that I've given up using klister altogether."

I agree completely.

"It's important to point out, though, that for dry, cold, new snow, waxing is not very hard to learn and in those conditions a well waxed ski works very much better that a waxless ski: both the glide and grip are better."

I agree to a point. Yes, glide and grip are both somewhat better with wax, but IME much of that advantage is given up fiddling with the wax as conditions change. It's only my personal choice, but I've pretty much given up on waxable skis. I realize that will alarm the purists, and that I'm leaving some performance on the table, but that's how I roll (or glide) now.

"As far as I know a square inch of p-tex with the right wax on it works as well on a waxable XC ski as a tele ski, with exception of a double camber ski on a good track, which will work better than a single camber ski"

I understand. But I'm not convinced that the single/double camber difference is as unimportant as you suggest. Yes, when breaking trail, the wax pocket doesn't matter much if at all. But, only one person in a party breaks trail at a time. Those following in his tracks benefit from proper camber/wax pockets.

Advanced skills (such as waxing) and advanced equipment (like state-of-the-art AT racing gear) are really beyond the scope of this introductory article aimed at getting beginners out in the BC. But, by all means continue the discussion. I hope that the more advanced skiers here will enjoy the upcoming part II by Forrest McCarthy.

Dave Chenault wrote: "Yellowstone in the heart of winter is the easiest place for kick wax I can think of."

Yep...except near the thermals. ;-)

Seriously, one of my worst experiences with waxable skis was on a day tour around the geyser basin at Old Faithful on XC skis. The snow temp easily varied by over 30F. I ended the day with dangerously cold hands fiddling with the wax in repeated, but ultimately futile, attempts to achieve some semblance of predictable grip and glide.

Cheers,

Mike

Edited by MikeMartin on 12/14/2012 18:17:37 MST.

Roman Vazhnov
(joarr) - MLife

Locale: Russia
Backcountry an AT ski gear on 12/14/2012 13:10:12 MST Print View

Jonathan, Dave, thanks for your answers. I've read some reports about Elk Mountains Grand Traverse, including Mike Kloser's tips - it is more clear now.
I agree that AT racing gear (and nordic racing) is more technologically advanced now, backcountry skiing gear is in some stagnation.
But i think there are situations when using backcountry skiing gear is more reasonable:
1. AT skiing gear is more suited to ascending\descending skiing mode. So, when horizontal component is more than vertical, when we need to cover long distances, but also need gear more rugged (and metal edges) than nordic racing - backcountry skis like Asnes Amundsen, Madshus Glittertind with Rotefella Supertelemark bindings and boots like Garmont Venture come to mind. Similar to what authors of the article called "Nordic touring". This setup weights around 3960 grams = 140 oz = 8.73 lbs (skis 1890 gr, bindings 370 gr, boots 1700 gr). The key factor (besides different skis) is the price, simplicity and reliability of the setup combined.
2. Using backcountry (crosscountry downhill) skis like Madshus Annum, Fischer S-Bound 112 with AT bindings (may be toe pieces) and AT boots. Like Dave already said, backcountry skis have different characteristics from AT skis - different flexibility, side cut, also waxless base is sometimes needed.
It would be cool to apply AT skis technology in this area - to make skis lighter, boots - lighter and not vulnerable to water.

For examle, Jonathan, what setup would you prefer for Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic?

Also i don't clearly understand what for we need skis like Rossignol BC 125, Voile Charger BC. To use them in Ross Bleakney's brother mode?

Edited by joarr on 12/14/2012 13:26:11 MST.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Backcountry an AT ski gear on 12/14/2012 14:25:01 MST Print View

>> Also i don't clearly understand what for we need skis like Rossignol BC 125, Voile Charger BC. To use them in Ross Bleakney's brother mode?

Yes, exactly. I have to mention, by the way, that I've used the Rossignol BC 125 skis as well. The only reason I stopped is because the (Randonee) boots I paired them with hurt my feet. This brings up a different issue. As I see it, there are only two big advantages of BC boots over Randonee boots: price and comfort. Comfort is obviously subjective, but when I've tried on the big plastic boots, I didn't like them. They remind me of alpine ski boots (which I hate). Cross country gear reminds me of trail runners, or at the very worst, hiking boots. As you can tell, I'm a bit of a foot weenie -- I like light, flimsy foot gear. I haven't given up, but price plays a part as well. I can buy a pair of BC boots at the store and not worry about swallowing the price if it turns out that I don't like them. Doing so with Randonee gear is much more costly.

But getting back to fat skis; basically they are great for powder as well as some other conditions, like breakable crust or choppy snow. With breakable crust, most skis sink in and cause all sorts of problems. A fat ski can just float over the top. Similarly, a choppy area (perhaps caused by folks post holing or using snow shoes) can be navigated more easily with skis that have a really big surface area.

But that is true of fat skis in general. The advantage of a waxless bottom in back country skiing is basically that it saves you the hassle of skinning or using kickwax. This is true of any waxless ski. What isn't so obvious to many back country skiers is how often it comes in handy. The yoyo trip I mentioned is one example, but I often run across situations where the waxless pattern comes in handy. For example, I often ski up to Camp Muir, on the south side of Mount Rainier (outside of Paradise). This is a pretty common route, and most people (including me) skin up for this trip. One variation on the way down involves going out Mazama Ridge. This is a great tour that gently descends, but contains lots of interesting little bowls and curves. With waxless skis, I'm free to check out these options, and go as slow as I want. If I had flat skis, I would probably stay up high and try to keep my speed up. Furthermore, the trip ends up on the road to Reflection Lakes, which involves ascending again. With the waxless skis, I don't have to hassle with skins, and just glide back to the car. I think some folks assume that if you have waxless skis, then you don't use skins. This isn't true, especially for those big skis (which are often used on steep areas).

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: ski wars on 12/14/2012 14:34:19 MST Print View

Pmags, have you been walking around CO with a bag over your head? ;)

Mike, nothing like thermal mud insta-frozen to your bases at -20.

Roman, your rig #1 is great; would be even better if the boots were more torsionally stiff and waterproof.

The fat (>80 waist) waxless skis have two roles. In their shorter iterations they're great schwacking/brush skis. In more normal lengths, and used as standard AT/tele skis they provide more efficient travel on flat and rolling approaches and runouts while only giving up a little gliding speed, and then only on harder snows. You also can't ski switch on them.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
CO debates on 12/14/2012 15:50:44 MST Print View

Ha! :D

Yes, it really can religious here, too
But, luckily those debates are mainly online, too


Luckily my friends and I keep our religious differences to ourselves. ;)

I've been known to hang with (says in a quiet whisper) snowshoers :D
In the backcountry, my friends and I are more interested in playing in the snow....and the beer, of course.

Edited by PaulMags on 12/14/2012 15:52:45 MST.

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: Woowee on 12/14/2012 20:30:46 MST Print View

These articles are such a tease with the lack of base we have here in CO so far...

Went all in on getting light as possible for long tours with emphasis on downhill as well. Thanks to the Boulder sample sales and some last years gear sales from European companies I pieced together a Sportiva Lo5, RT bindings, and Dynafit TLT5s coming in at 6 lbs 10.5 oz per foot. Guess I'll have to add in the skin weight at some point. Sorry, too excited and felt like bragging!

Loving the winter focused articles!

Ben Wiles
(benjita) - MLife

Locale: Annandale, VA
XC equipment for mid-atlantic on 12/14/2012 22:41:07 MST Print View

Any suggestions on XC equipment for use in MD,VA,WV? Looking to do some overnight XC along fire roads,logging roads, and hiking trails. I weigh about 190 and winter pack weight with consumables is under 25lbs. Would a pair of metal edged Rossi BC 65's be sufficent? If so, any boot recomendations to pair with those skis?

Edited by benjita on 12/15/2012 08:20:06 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: XC gear on 12/15/2012 15:08:27 MST Print View

Went on a trip Friday and today and ended up carrying the skis more often than not. Anymore ski season is mid-Jan thru mid-June.

"Looking to do some overnight XC along fire roads,logging roads, and hiking trails. I weigh about 190 and winter pack weight with consumables is under 25lbs. Would a pair of metal edged Rossi BC 65's be sufficent? If so, any boot recomendations to pair with those skis?"

For snowed in roads that'd be a fine ski, though if the snow is deep and soft you might want something wider. The 65s will work in groomed tracks as a bonus. Hiking trails can mean a lot of different things. If they've flatish, then those skis are good. On steep and tight trails skinny skis are not kind to beginners (or indeed, non-experts). Either 3 pin or system (NNN, SNS, etc) bindings will work with those skis. Get a mid-stiffness boot that fits and you'll be all set.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
Skied today on 12/16/2012 14:36:59 MST Print View

Well, my good friend and I did a ski tour today. A lovely morning ski with just enough snow to get a kick and glide in and a fun little downhill down the road back to the car. (CMC south to Lil Raven for anyone in the area)

Somehow we were too busy catching up and having fun to discuss NNN-BC vs 3 pin or Wax vs fish scales. (Though I did mention I did get to use polar wax last weekend when it was colder...)

I apologize in advance for having fun rather than discussing gear while skiing. ;)

Over Xmas, I'll be sure to do an in depth questionnaire over everyone's gear as we go to the 10th Mtn Division Hut. In between the cups of gluhwein (my wife is German and I am thankful for being introduced to this wonderful winter beverage), I am sure we can ponder the pros and cons of AT vs Tele vs Nordic Backcountry vs snowshoes in terms of gear. All four types of gear will be represented. I am thinking of bringing a scale to the hut to fully tabulate the results....

Tongue (mainly) planted in cheek. :D

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Skied today on 12/16/2012 20:30:21 MST Print View

I skied today as well. Things have been pretty good in the Northwest and about to get better. We did the opposite, though, and talked about gear most of the time. We saw some folks using Voile gear, and I personally was jealous. Then again, I'm not sure if it would have worked with my BC boots. Everyone else had A. T. or Telemark gear, but I was trying to manage Alpina Lite Terrain with my Alpina 2050 boots. There is nothing wrong with the boots, but those skis just weren't right for all of the deep snow. I love this combination in the Spring, but conditions like these (and my guess is you folks in Montana are about to experience similar conditions) call for lighter, fatter skis. The problem, of course, is that it is difficult to manage big fat skis with BC boots. Which leads me to either use different boots (which might hurt my feet) or to avoid the really steep stuff. I did some of that today, but it seemed silly. If I'm going to traverse my way down a mountain, I would much rather just use regular cross country gear. A pair of Inbound Crowns is really light (as light as a lot of really expensive A. T. gear) but really flimsy. But unless I step up a couple notches (to Randonee/Telemark gear) I can't manage steep hills in deep snow anyway.

But enough about that. I would really like to see a few graphs showing various pieces of winter gear. I would start with boots and bindings. On the left you would have weight. On the bottom of the graph would be control. I wouldn't try and figure out the particulars of each piece of gear, but just lump them by type. So, left to right you would have plain cross country boots, then BC, then three pin, then Randonee/Telemark. My guess is that you would have a graph that gradually moves up as you went to the right, but then flared on you hit the A. T. stuff. In other words, cross country gear is light, BC gear is a heavier, and A. T. gear ranges from being heavier than BC, to being as light as some of the cross country gear (which makes it lighter than all of the BC gear). With bindings I think you would find the same thing. Both of these graphs would be fairly straightforward to make (I think).

Comparing skis gets really complicated, unfortunately. To begin with, generally speaking, there is no specific "type" of ski (as mentioned earlier). With few exceptions, you can mount any binding on any ski. So one of the problems is trying to define how appropriate a ski is for the conditions. This adds to the number of data points. You could add camber, metal edge, turning radius, surface area and rocker. I'm sure it could be done, and it would lead similar results. The cross country gear (even the cheap stuff) is light, but is difficult to use in many conditions (steep slopes on deep snow). The more surface area a ski has, the heavier it is, although there are some high-end skis with really low weight and plenty of surface area. I think graphs like these would make it easier to understand the options available. But then again, I just like cool graphs.

Roman Vazhnov
(joarr) - MLife

Locale: Russia
re: ski wars on 12/17/2012 02:13:44 MST Print View

//Roman, your rig #1 is great; would be even better if the boots were more torsionally stiff and waterproof.

Dave, i don't own this rig, it is only in plans. So i am considering other boots options:
Alpina Explorer 75
Rossignol BC X6 75mm
But there are no reviews of them, and i can't find them in russian local shops, so i picked Garmont because its weight is listed on site.
And i still have to find application for such skis - mountains on vacation perhaps. On local trails near Moscow i am fairly successfully using ordinary racing XC skis - Atomic Skintec.

Edited by joarr on 12/19/2012 00:52:20 MST.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
ski boots on 12/17/2012 11:17:19 MST Print View

Quantifing the attributes of nordic boots is tough. You want a degree of side to side rigidity, but sole stiffness is the primary thing which will allow you to control a ski in more difficult snows and terrain. The various brands vary a lot here. In the end fit will trump everything. For instance, I use Rossignol Bcx11s because they fit. The Fischer 675s were stiffer in the sole and skied better in many ways, but the forefoot was too skinny for me.

Best buy from a retailer with a good return policy.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: ski boots on 12/17/2012 11:32:02 MST Print View

I agree, the fit is the key thing. Especially with plastic boots, where there is less likely to be much give (which is the point). In other words, heavy leather boots are more likely to feel better on your feet after a few months of use, while plastic boots won't. Complicating things is that a lot of the boots have heat moldable liners. These are meant to tailor the fit to your feet. But there is only so much these can do. Many stores won't return a boot after the heat molding. Thus, it kind of is a tricky situation. A boot won't fit perfect in the store (because it needs to be heat molded) but if it still feels bad (after the molding) then you are in trouble. I recommend renting. It won't fit perfect (because of the heat molding) but you can eat least try several different pairs and try to find the one that feels the best. With BC and cross country boots, you don't have this problem.

Velimir Kemec
(velimirkemec) - F
another ski boot q on 12/17/2012 15:50:04 MST Print View

Hi,
Been following the thread and just wanted to ask about the BC boot fit as well. Today I went to check Alpina BC 2250 boots out at my local Alpina store and had few sizes to try from. My regular foot size (US 10) was way to small and tight in the forefoot (I have very wide feet) next size up felt much better and relaxed across the forefoot so I felt comfortable wearing them with two pairs of socks. Next size up was way to big and boots felt sloppy on my feet. What I noted with the boot that seemed to be the right lenght is that I had some heel slippage. It was hard to lock the heel in with regular knot so I had to use the heel locking knot I use on my running, hiking shoes to lock the heel in, but there was still slight movement after that as weel.

Is it normal to have some heel slippage in BC boots or there should be zero heel up and down movement with boots on? Rubbing=blisters! Or simply boots don't fit? I am totaly new to the BC skiing sport and would like to buy my first set of BC skiing equipment so any tip will help.
Thanks!

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: another ski boot q on 12/17/2012 15:59:14 MST Print View

That's not normal, Velimir. It is probably just the particular nature of the boot and your foot. One thing you might try is using a custom insert (one of those heat moldable ones). I did that with a BC boot and it went from being OK to being great.

Velimir Kemec
(velimirkemec) - F
Nordic BC boot on 12/18/2012 12:45:28 MST Print View

Thanks Ross! Which heat moldable inserts you've used. I did try Fischer boots as well but they are just to narrow in the forefoot. I would like to fit the Alpina if that's possible with simple inserts. It might be that original Alpina inserts are a bit to high and my heel gets above heel cup. Will try to take the original inserts out.

Does Thinsulate insulation used in nordic BC boots get all compressed with years of use so the boots are getting bigger by the end of their lifespan? Do boots form to the foot shape after few uses? I meant like in leather boots when they get foot form shape after you brake them in.

Thanks.
Regards!

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Nordic BC boot on 12/18/2012 12:55:29 MST Print View

I haven't noticed any compression of the thinsulate. I don't think it is like leather. I don't think it will fit very differently in the future. Generally speaking, a lot of these boots are very similar to plain Nordic boots (non-BC) except they have some plastic that surrounds them (and adds support). It varies, of course, as some of the boots have plenty of leather (and will confirm as you suggest). I haven't noticed any difference in fit with my plain Nordic or Nordic BC boots.

One thing I have heard is that the moldable inner boot on a plastic boot with compress over time. As you put pressure on the sides, it loosens up. I don't have personal experience with it (never owned a pair long enough) but that is what I've heard.

Arapiles .
(Arapiles) - M

Locale: Melbourne
Spelling on 12/22/2012 18:50:36 MST Print View

Nice to see the article.

May I suggest "representative" rather than "reprentative"?