Great article. Wow, Forrest McCarthy writing on Nordic Backcountry skiing. What's next, Mike Clelland drawing illustrations about backpacking light? Seriously, though, great work BPL. I think its great to have so many great articles by so many great writers.
I agree, Ryan. Even though fat skis are sold as "powder skis" they really are more useful, or should I say, more important, in thick, wetter snow. True powder is very forgiving. I've skied it with regular Nordic gear (non BC, no metal edges) and done just fine. The lightweight nature of that gear (weighing far less than any of this gear) really helps. My skis weren't super skinny, but they didn't have much sidecut. This was OK, as powder skiing doesn't necessarily require much sidecut (some of the newer powder skis have reverse sidecut, like water skis). But skiing the usual Northwest glop on those skis, or even significantly bigger skis is really a challenge. Big surface areas and rocker are needed as well as strong boots and bindings to power through turns. Snowboarding is really popular in the Mount Baker area, and has been for a very long time, because of the conditions and the need for something big to manage it.
Other thoughts: First, I sure wish those light skis had waxless bottoms. Oh well, they don't. Maybe someday, as that seems to be the trend. Waxless is much faster than kickers (or skins) but not as much hassle as waxing (again, this is the Northwest, where kick waxing conditions change hourly). I always throw a pair of kickers in my pack, but often managed to ascend the mountain without needing them.
Second, I'm afraid I still don't understand all of the binding options available. I've read a little about NTN, and I'm a bit disappointed it wasn't mentioned. Are there other options for bindings other than the styles mentioned? If so, were they dismissed because they are heavier?
I'm also curious about the three pin (non-plastic) boots versus BC boots. It seems to me that in many cases, the boot is essentially the same boot, but with just a different toe piece. Are the three pin versions really that much stiffer? Is three pin preferred because of concerns over BC bindings failing (something I've never seen or experienced, but heard about)?