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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.