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AT Nordic Ski Systems: Discovering the Best of Backcountry Nordic and Alpine Touring Systems Through Hybridization
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Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
yes on 02/20/2014 02:47:06 MST Print View

Nice article. I don't have much experience with cross country skis, so I can't make a comparo, but I will say that my friend on XC skis was struggling to keep up with me on a classic XC trail in Indian Peaks, and I had the strange feeling that it would be very hard to get out of breath on moderate terrain with this setup. It was pretty clear that the skis were a huge factor, since he has a similar fitness to me. Specifically, the skimo race setup was clearly a better tool for the same type of terrain.

I've used Volle Vector BC skis for the last two years for the same types of rolling tours, resort skiing, winter bc, and spring ski mountaineering in CO rockies and WA volcanos, and for the type of skiing described in this article, hands down the race skis, with race boots/bindings and glidey race skins are better. If you want just a single ski for rolling terrain, as well as steeper stuff with varied winter and spring snow, then the BC is a good choice, but there are plenty of downsides. As a newly obsessed skier with the intention of skimo racing and a pro deal, it was a no brainer to expand my quiver of one. (I had a season ending injury, so no racing this year, but I'm crossing my fingers for spring).

Using a race ski (or similar) on rolling xc terrain is faster, lighter and more maneuverable, with better kick and nearly as good glide on most types of snow. And on spring approaches when the snow is still hard, skinning is a no brainer. On backcountry day tours in steeper terrain, you need to use skins on the way up anyway and if there's any sort of approach trail in, I would struggle on the way out, switching between making a few turns with a stiff boot, skate skiing and switching out of ski mode to kick and glide as my unwaxless friends would mostly just glide all the way back to the car. The wax pattern slows you down considerably on mellow terrain. I've skied laps at a backcountry slope which had nearly the perfect skin track for the waxless pattern, and using skins was still faster and more fun on the way up. Learning the art of transitions is well worth the effort. On sticky gloppy snow, the waxless patter, especially after developing some scratches, would pick up absurd amounts of snow, which lead to some awkward faceplants and frustrating tours. I had a ton of fun on the vector bc's, and as my only ski, they were just about the most versatile thing I could imagine, but if I had it to do over again, I'd buy either a race like ski to begin with or a superlight midfat (no waxless pattern) and save up till I could afford the other.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Mounting Width for AT Race Bindings on 02/20/2014 06:16:49 MST Print View

"The problem with using TLT bindings on the Glittertind or Voss rests in the heel piece, which I've heard is too big to mount on these narrow skis (~50mm waist)."
-- I have no idea what the max mounting pattern width is for those skis, but the Left<>Right hole spacing for most AT race bindings is 25mm, and the Plum 135/145 is even narrower at 20.5mm. (Dynafit Low Tech race and Speed Superlight are both 23mm.)

Steven Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
Re: Mounting Width for AT Race Bindings on 02/20/2014 10:43:15 MST Print View

I'm likely confusing mounting width with something else. See comment further above:

"I have wondered about binding screw retention at the heels in XCD skis, as I believe they don't have any reinforcing in that area like they often do at the toe."

I'm not familiar enough with tech bindings to know where problems might surface in mounting. I just know that some folks have opted to only mount the toe piece on narrower skis. It could be due to the fact that these setups were built before the minimalist race bindings became more widely available, when the heel piece was considerably larger (i.e. original TLT Speed).

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: yes on 02/20/2014 11:21:17 MST Print View

Serge, there probably is a lot to be said for light skis and fast, full-ish coverage skins in mixed terrain. Most of us probably don't have good enough technique and fitness to maximize the grip of scales or wax in that terrain.

Heel piece retention is an interesting issue in nordic skis. I'm thinking of my favorite 2007-2010 S Bound models, which have hollow areas running parallel with the long axis of the ski back where the heel piece would go. If anything, narrow 4 and 3 screw arrangements would exacerbate this.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Cheaper boot alternative on 02/21/2014 22:53:23 MST Print View

Dane over at cold thistle has an interesting comparison of a chopped dynafit one and the tlt6:

Moding this boot might provide a cheaper and warmer/wider light boot alternative though I personally would be be loath to give up any downhill performance over by maestrales in wet and heavy snow conditions.

My personal experience with fish scales on fat non xc cambered skis (karhu guides) is that they aren't worthwhile. They add a ton of drag and don't climb well in untracked snow. I found them really only useful for short, mellow powder laps once a low angle skin track had been established with skins. On lower angle logging approach stuff I couldn't keep up with people on either true cambered xc gear or flat bottomed at skis using skins or skating without skins for short ups. Both will glide much better on the way down and drag is less of an issue on the way up. Voile does make great skis though, I have the non fishscale charger.

Fish scales might be superior on truly flat terrain with a groomed or crusted/packed surface but then true double cambered xc skis would glide better (though i'd be tempted flat bottomed skis and a power kite...).

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Fishscales on 02/22/2014 08:33:48 MST Print View

"[fish scales on fat non xc cambered skis] add a ton of drag and don't climb well in untracked snow....On lower angle logging approach stuff I couldn't keep up with people on....flat bottomed at skis using skins...."

Thanks for the first hand experience. Are you saying that on a low angle approach, Voile Vectors with skins would be faster than fishscale Voile Vector BC's without skins? My expectations are that the fishscale skis would be faster on the ascent. Both would have sufficient grip for low angles, but the fishscales would be lighter without skins and they'd glide better than skins for short downhills (where it's not worthwhile to rip skins). They would allow skating or double polling on flat sections (again, when it's not worthwhile to rip skins). They would also allow the skiers to "save" their skins for when they are really needed during multiday trips (ie. not get them wet on low elevation snow).

Ryan, what are you thoughts on this situation: I'd like a ski where I can do a 100 mile 5 day traverse - much of it on low angle rolling terrain but with a few big steep lines along the way. So the setup needs to be big mountain capable, but also reasonably efficient for long distances. The goal is not maximum speed, but maximum fun. I'm hesitant to rely solely on skins for something like this in case I hit miles of clumping spring snow at low elevations, or get the glue wet dropping them in a creek. A ski like the Vector BC's (or Charger BC) but with skins along for steeper ascents seems like a good compromise.

Edited by dandydan on 02/22/2014 08:35:02 MST.

rOg w
(rOg_w) - F

Locale: rogwilmers.wordpress
deleted on 02/22/2014 09:34:25 MST Print View


Edited by rOg_w on 03/12/2014 08:41:00 MDT.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Skis on 02/22/2014 09:56:14 MST Print View

Yeah I'm moving west in 6 weeks. PCT this summer then probably grad school in Vancouver

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Re: Fishscales on 02/22/2014 12:03:46 MST Print View

Dan, first off my experience is limited to the guides (and various older cross country skis as a kid). I'd love to try the scaled voiles but would probably go with a flat bottom anyways as that better fits the style I do. I don't do multi day stuff regularly or do tours with truelly flat (ie lake) approaches but I have often skied miles up and down a flattish valley bottom or logging road.

It is also worth noting that fish scales negatively impact hardpack performance as they hinder your ability to rotate the skis with flat bases to initiate turns. Not an issue in soft snow but definitely on wind pack or icy tobogan run ski outs where i like to be able to throw the skis sideways to stop on a dime. The guides also had bevel/base high issues and are really soft so you might have better luck with the vectors. Something to watch for if you demo.

Smithbrook road (snowed in at the highway in winter) is an example of what I would consider a flatish tour I have done on both the guides and flat bottomed skis and much prefer the flat bottomed skis:

I first did it on guides and on the way out thought "this is great I can just kick and glide these low angle sections." Without fish scales I discovered no kicking was required on the way down, you can ski the whole way from the lichtenwasser to the highway with just a bit of skating.

Notably my wife got better glide but worse grip on her atomic rainers (she could cost along while I was running) which I attribute to differences in camber and pattern. Trail breaking on rough terrain on either ski will have you reaching for the skins quickly.

MaxiGlide helps on the downs but takes more time then skins.

I use g3 nylon skins which are pretty light and actually break free and glide pretty well (keep them waxed, hot wax the skins before sloppy spring tours, dry in the sun at stops). I hear mohair is even better and for long flat tours in cold conditions at least. Some people carry/use a pair of skinny skins for long flats. Fishschales might win for something like a lake crossing or circumnavigation.

Fish scales are great for powder farming short slopes with minimal transition. But doing that I found it was best to set a low angle up track with skins on and then I could get away with out them for subsequent laps.

Some good threads on the vector bc vs similar skis including people who love them and people who grind off the scales:

Obviously a contentious topic. I'll reiterate that I haven't skied scaled voiles and would like to but will probably stick with flat bases for now.

My 191 chargers are amazing on the down in powder and surprisingly good at carving too i would have been out on them for a tour this morning if the avi conditions weren't so sketch here. I'd love a shorter/lighter vector to comlement it. I think it is interesting to note as well that voile's skimo race ski (the wsp) has the same rocker profile as the 160 vector.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Skis & Fishscales on 02/22/2014 13:14:41 MST Print View

Thanks a lot Ryan, I appreciate it.

It sounds like the negatives are directly related to the increase in drag. I'll keep an eye on this, and I'll likely test anything before I buy. I'd be happier with a fairly low amount of grip (ie. up to 10 degree slopes) in exchange for a minimal loss in glide.

"fish scales negatively impact hardpack performance as they hinder your ability to rotate the skis with flat bases to initiate turns. Not an issue in soft snow but definitely on wind pack or icy tobogan run ski outs where i like to be able to throw the skis sideways to stop on a dime."
Good to know. I wouldn't have thought of this. Another good thing to test before I buy anything.

Thinking about this more, I'm leaning towards the Voile Charger BC's rather than the Vectors BC's. It's a tough call, but I think I'd rather lug a bit more weight for a more powder capable ski. For a few years I've been touring with Rossi S7's, Marker Duke's and Black Diamond Factor boots, which is obviously very heavy (28 lbs total with skins). Two years ago I bought a lighter setup (Black Diamond Drifts, Dynafit TLT ST bindings, Black Diamond Factor boots) which dropped that to 20 lbs for the full setup but I was really disappointed with the skis on the descents (too floppy, and a bit skinny). Something like the Charger BC's, Dynafit TLT Speed Radical bindings and Black Diamond Quadrant boots would be 18 lbs with skins and pretty versatile. Obviously that's not super efficient for long traverses but I suspect it would be good enough.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/22/2014 14:54:00 MST Print View

I have reservations about some of the negative claims made re fishscales.

First, the amount of drag due to scales. I don't think the scales are nearly as significant as the width of the skis. The wider the skis, the more 'snow plowing' the tip will be doing through most conditions, and ime that is the main factor. I have shot past others while on 'skinny skis' with fishscales; they had wider skis and were leaving wider grooves.

Next, and rather controversially, the weight of the skier is a major factor in drag. A light skier going downhill on narrow skis with a stiff camber will be travelling mainly on the tip and the tail, and both of these areas are smooth. Someone significantly heavier than me on the same skis may well be riding on the scale area, and will go slower.

By way of example, I have some Bonner Conquests (Canadian) skis which are long, narrow, parallel-sided (very 'Nordic') and very stiffly double-cambered. At my weight (64 kg, 140 lb) they go very fast. However, trying to turn in them is hard. I have to be very aggressive to get any flex - a heavy pack helps!

> fish scales negatively impact hardpack performance as they hinder your ability to
> rotate the skis with flat bases to initiate turns.
I simply do not agree with this. We get a LOT of hardpack and ice here in Australia: sunny daytimes and sub-zero overnight, and we are very used to travelling over ice. (That does not mean we like it! Clatter clatter clatter!) The problems we have had with turning is getting the metal edges to actually bite into the ice - without falling over. The idea of ANY skis being able to 'stop on a dime' under those conditions is, well, amusing.

All that said, I should point out that we use far lighter skis here in Oz, definitely in the light Nordic class. Most of us used to use leather 3-pin boots, which are medium in weight, and rat-trap bindings, which are very light. The great big heavy AT class of bindings are rarely seen here. Sue and I have since moved to NNN-BC bindings on Rossignol BC65s and Fischer Explorer Crowns. Slower skis overall, more sidecut, and softer, but at least we can turn in them. :-)

We ski in rolling country. If you were to match skins against fishscales here, you would find the scales spending lots of time waiting while the skins put them on and took them off for every hill. Very few use skins here today. Most people have never even seen them.


David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/22/2014 16:54:07 MST Print View

It should be noted that the extruded base on Guides was pretty darn slow, fishscales or no. I've not skied the Vector or Charger BC, but given that the fore and aft sections are sintered and can be hot waxed, I would hope they'd be faster.

I've had a handful of instances were I missed fishscales on my BD Currents, almost always on rolling, 90% downhill exits with a few ups too long and/or steep to easily sidestep, and plenty of sections where gliding without skins would be ideal. Honestly, AT gear is at a disadvantage here anyway, as I find myself wanting to be locked in for stopping on the downs, and unlocked from the heel and in walk mode on the ups. All of which is to say that the weaknesses of AT and non-fishscale skis sort of complement each other well.

Roger, comparing 90+ mm waisted alpine skis with nordic skis just doesn't work.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
scales or not on 02/22/2014 16:58:55 MST Print View

Broad statements about waxless ski performance vs. waxable tend to be just as accurate as any broad statement, and not much use unless the specifics are considered. Waxless bases vary quite a bit from one brand to another; snow conditions obviously vary enormously; the type of terrain you prefer or have to deal with also varies enormously. Certain generalizations can be applied reasonably well:
1) Waxable skis, IF WAXED PROPERLY (very big if here), will perform better than waxless when the conditions stay consistent for a long-ish period of time/distance - so if the snow is consistent for most of the morning and several miles, a properly waxed ski will outperform the waxless ski most of the time. But you'll notice how many cavets are in that statement. If you have to deal with constantly changing snow conditions the story changes.

2) Waxable skis are faster downhill. Not much to argue about here - but note that there is considerable difference in waxless patterns in this regard. the positive patterns - molded to stand above the rest of the base - tend to grip better but glide worse, while negative patterns - milled into a flat base - tend to glide better and grip less well.

2) Waxless skis do their best gripping in corn and their worst in powder. This seems to be true across all the base styles.

3) Each brand has a reputation as far as its waxless pattern. Karhu had (and Madshus now has) a positive pattern reputed to grip well and glide less. Alpina has the rep of being the best gripping pattern - though some of that is simply about the alpine flex of their skis. Fischer and Atomic have nearly identical negative patterns, which by reputation glide better and grip not quite as well.

What I have observed in reading lots of posts about base performance on a number of forums is that where you are has a lot to do with it. Skiers in the rockies and New England seem to be more likely to like waxable skis; skiers in the PNW and the Sierra tend to go more for waxless. And skiers who tend to be out in the spring rather than the deep winter tend firther toward waxless it seems - not surprising to anyone who's ever done a week-long tour in the Sierra In April or May, where conditions change drastically every few feet if you get into the woods, and corn is on the menu every afternoon.

And there's also a noticeable difference in preference related to the goal of the tour - those who are out to reach the top of a peak and ski down seem to tend toward waxable - not surprising since often the up is too steep for scales anyway - or for wax for that matter; they use glide wax and skins. Those who are out to traverse the miles over more mellow terrain seem to go for waxles more often.

Again, this is just what I observe from reading lots of threads on this subject. You could say there's a spectrum/matrix here - at the one end, the steep-and-deep, ski a gnarly coulouir guys in deep winter are all on waxable skis - and practically never use kick wax either. They skin up and ski down. At the other end, the long mellow tour in spring conditions crowd are almost all on waxless.

Personally I'm in the latter group - a week of mellow corn touring is my idea of skiing, and I do int in the Sierra in the spring. For what I do a waxless ski is the way to go for sure. I'm in the conditions where waxless generally performs at it's best, and where wax is at it's worst - changeable and corny/slushy. So that's what I use. If were into different skiing or in a different time and place I might want something else.

So if you're trying to decide what's going to work best for you it seems to make sense to look at what works for people who do the same kind of trips you want to do, in the same area, and at the same time of year. change any of theose variables and you get a different answer.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: scales or not on 02/22/2014 17:16:54 MST Print View

I could not agree more with Paul's statements about geographic variability.

In the springtime in California, we often go through several changes of snow texture _per_hour_. That makes it tough on waxers, so the waxless crowd is big. That is, except for this year. Since there is almost zero snow, we've had to learn to do the granite telemark.


Michael Matiasek
(matiasek) - F - M
Another vote for Fish scales on 02/22/2014 22:15:31 MST Print View

I too have been considering enlarging my quiver with a pair of waxless AT skis. The Madshus Annum (formerly the Karhu Guide) or the vector BC were skis I have been considering. I appreciate all the discussion here to help me make the decision. Being in California it seems like it will be a good choice for multi day or long day tours in the spring... though spring conditions present throughout the winter.

For me if it is a powder day, I think I would be focusing on skiing more vertical to get more turns in which would likely not have as much terrain that the waxless ski would excel. However, for long day tours or multi day tours where corn conditions are typically present I think I am leaning towards a lighter more modest waxless ski such as the Annum. I really don't see the advantage of a fat ski to ski corn. Corn conditions seem to ski well on most AT any ski.

I have found this trip report of a fast ski tour of the JMT to be interesting. Towards the bottom the author claims that without waxless skis that route would have taken an extra day.

It really does seem to come down to the conditions we expect to be skiing.
Thanks again for all the good discussion points.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/22/2014 22:47:48 MST Print View

Hi Dave

> Roger, comparing 90+ mm waisted alpine skis with nordic skis just doesn't work.
Oh, I totally agree.
My argument was against blaming the fishscales.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/23/2014 00:06:28 MST Print View

Some people have to blame something.

A friend and I were skiing along on a Yosemite trail. We had the exact same skis, except that hers were the waxable version, and mine were the waxless version. We had been skiing through different textures of snow, and then her skis were not working at all. They were not iced over, but she had no grip on the uphill and no glide on the downhill. She blamed the skis. So, we stopped and switched skis. I got on the waxable skis and skied off in a flash. She was thrashing around on the waxless skis.


David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Another vote for Fish scales on 02/23/2014 08:07:07 MST Print View

The really intriguing question is whether Voile is going to give us a fishscaled WSP for next winter.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Re: Re: Another vote for Fish scales on 02/23/2014 09:17:07 MST Print View

A fish scaled 170 or 180 cm wsp would be an interesting ski...

I'd love to do more of the consolidated snow fish scale touring lots of you are describing. Maybe I'll make a spring trip to the sierra or some high plateau in the rockies after consolidation some year...

My concerns about fishscales are restricted to fatter, downhill oriented skis as Dan is interested in used in conditions that warrant a fat ski.

Also most of my spring experience comes more from the cascades where spring conditions involves a lot of sloppy snow, occasional powder, crust, tree bombed and sun cupped snow and grabby brush. Consolidated corn doesn't really show up till summer. This will be similar to the conditions dan will experience if he ends up in the Vancouver area.

As far as I know the most prolific traversers in this environment at the moment are Kile Miller (Split Board), Jason Hummel (Tele) and Forest McBrian (AT). Some inspiring pics/blog posts all of which appear to be done of fatter skis/boards with skins:

And Dan, I think you can do much better then the quadrant for a boot in terms of weight and ski and touring is an old design from before the revolution in at boots sparked by the tlt5/6 and the maestrale.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - F

Quadrant on 02/23/2014 11:17:55 MST Print View

Good discussion guys.

Yeah I'm out of the loop right now on boots. I've been east for 2 years so I've fallen behind. Thanks for the suggestions. I'll do lots of research before I actually buy something. I'll probably buy boots last, as my BD Factors are great except for 25% heavier than necessary.

Then again, these used Dynafit ZZero 4 Carbon boots are a mere $75 Buy It Now. Tempting but I'm not really informed enough to start tossing money around.