Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » AT Nordic Ski Systems: Discovering the Best of Backcountry Nordic and Alpine Touring Systems Through Hybridization


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Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Re: Re: Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/23/2014 13:24:31 MST Print View

@B.G. -- My guess is that she doesn't weigh the same as you -- am I right? If so, the problem is that her skis weren't the appropriate size for her weight. If not, then yes, it is about technique. If you get Nordic skis with lots of camber and you are a bit light for them, then you need to really jump on the skis to get them to move. I have a pair that I struggle with unless I am on really flat ground (or I'm wearing a heavy pack).

I think Ryan has a point, but there are a lot of other factors. As Roger suggests, a lot has to do with camber. Ryan emphasized this (he said "fish scale skis without camber") but it might have been lost in the comment. I have a pair like this (Atomic Lite Terrain) and they are extremely slow. But they are also short and sculpted. There are so many factors involved that it is hard to make generalizations, although I think Paul's comments are spot on. I agree with Ryan that a ski without much camber (or none at all) will be slower than a flat bottom ski. It is also harder to wax that area (most people, including me, don't). This means that you have a ski that is great when first bought, but gets slower over time. Cold waxes and products like maxiglide can help a lot, but they are nowhere near as fast as a hot wax (I'm not sure what is applied at the factory, but it is really fast as well). Plus, when you add the stuff, you can mess up your uphill grip sometimes.

That being said, I really like fish scaled skis -- I think with most skis, the difference in speed between fish scales and flat bottoms is minimal. Meanwhile, if the terrain isn't too steep for them, then fish scales are much faster than skins or kickers (in my experience). I have done Smithbrook several times, and I cruised along just fine with fishscale skis (both up and down). Like I said, there are so many other factors involved (like the last time you waxed your skis) that could easily contribute to the feeling that your fishscale skis are significantly slower.

@Dan -- I would get the wider ski. Generally speaking, wider is better. They are called "powder skis" but really, the biggest difference is on wet, sloppy snow. Snowboarding became really popular at Mount Baker, which is not known for powder, but for huge, wet, sloppy snow dumps. A big ski (or snowboard) allows you stay above the mess, and carve nice turns. I've tried skiing sloppy snow with the aforementioned Atomic Lite Terrain and it was a disaster. I sunk too much so I was trying to push heavy snow with boots that weren't up to the task. On the other hand, with powder, you can ski it with anything -- it's just that you can ski it more enjoyably with wider skis.

Back to the original article, for the most part, you can put any binding on any ski. For example, I have a pair of Atomic Rainier skis with NNN BC bindings on them. There is no reason why I can't replace those bindings with a Telemark or Randonee binding. So the idea that a BC Nordic system is lighter because the ski is lighter (which was suggested more in the referenced article and not this one) is silly.

With that in mind, high quality Randonee boots and bindings are simply lighter than Nordic BC boots and bindings. However, there are plenty of (relatively) cheap Randonee (and Telemark) boots that are heavier than BC boots.

Comfort is a different story. It is hard to generalize on the subject of comfort (put your trail runners on the wrong feet and suddenly those heavy hiking boots seem a lot more comfortable) but ankle motion is only one type of motion. As David mentioned, the lack of metatarsal bend means there will be less efficiency to each stride and, in my book, a lot less comfort. Likewise, the main advantage of plastic boots becomes a disadvantage when you are talking comfort. Soft boots flex in various areas, which is really nice when hiking or skiing. The price you pay, of course, is that they have less control. If you manage to find enough control with a soft, flexibly boot, then you are in heaven (e. g. I've skied the aforementioned Smithbrook on regular (non-BC) Nordic gear and it was a blast). But if you misjudge the conditions, you start wishing for a plastic boot. A good compromise may be Telemark gear. They have the metatarsal bend, but all of the control (or at least almost all) that a Randonee system has. You pay a big price in weight, unfortunately. Just as no one is making big advances in Nordic BC gear, the same can be said for Telemark boots. Even if the boots matched the weight of the fancy Randonee boots, you would still pay a sizable weight penalty for the bindings (and it might be impossible to rectify this, give the design limitations).

Unfortunately, Randonee race gear is designed to win races, not be more comfortable. The range of ankle motion and relative comfort advantage is a side benefit. Most of the people who find the boots surprisingly comfortable come from an alpine skiing background. There are very few cross country skiers who will say "Wow, these plastic boots are really comfortable". They will, on the other hand, comment on how surprisingly light and expensive they are. I think the ideal boot would act like a Nordic boot on the way up, but an AT (or even Telemark) boot on the way down. I could see having a basic inner boot much like a regular Nordic boot, but with a plastic shell that could be applied for the way down. Since there is a transition with AT gear anyway, this would be a small price to pay. Such a system would weigh more (and not win any races) but would be fairly light going up and would basically be my dream system.

Speaking of transitions, that is one of the other key advantages to BC Nordic. Ryan eluded to this, when he said that the fish scales slowed his skis too much going down, and he was forced to skate, or stop and switch to uphill mode. With BC Nordic, this isn't an issue. I've gone on rolling hills where switching between uphill and downhill occurred every couple minutes and BC Nordic with waxless was extremely fast. Of course you can ski those sections without going into downhill mode, but I think with BC Nordic you have more control (since those are designed for that).

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

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Skis & Fishscales on 02/23/2014 16:39:44 MST Print View

"@B.G. -- My guess is that she doesn't weigh the same as you -- am I right?"

Oh, she was a lot fatter.

I didn't say that, did I?

Seriously, she was on 183cm waxable skis, and I was on 203cm waxless skis. Her skis were right for her weight, height, and leg reach, as were mine. She could not make the 183cm skis work, but she couldn't make the 203cm skis work, either.

--B.G.--

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
plastic boots on 02/23/2014 20:52:00 MST Print View

I have worn plastic boots (Scarpa T3s) just once. I hired them to try them out. After about 2 hours of puttering around, I was in agony. The constant rubbing pressure on the front of my shins nearly crippled me. I had to completely unclip the boots just to get back to the lodge we were staying at that week.

Fortunately, I had also rented some skating gear for the week, and that was fine. No fish scales and no metal edges though, so we had to skate. Um - I had better add that skating uphill is !@#$%^&*<>?":~ hard work!!!!!!!

I very seriously doubt I will ever go near plastic boots which have high fronts again. Ever.

Cheers

Jim Milstein
(JimSubzero) - M

Locale: New Uraniborg CO
Re: plastic boots on 02/23/2014 21:06:25 MST Print View

"I have worn plastic boots (Scarpa T3s) just once."

Bad fit it sounds like, Roger. With well-fitting, well-baked liners you would have been overcome with ecstasy instead of with pain. Rather than becoming crippled, you would have taken wing and flown. Also, you would have won a great lottery and been mobbed by good-looking people of your preference eager for your company. No doubt of this.

Mitchell Rossman
(bigmitch)

Locale: Minneapolis-St. Paul
Re: AT Nordic Ski Systems on 03/18/2014 19:12:25 MDT Print View

Yes, may be a bad fit on those Scarpa T3s.

I have used mine maybe 150+ days since '97 and they always felt great using the original liners.

At first, I used them on long, straight, skinny telemark skis, then with snowshoes, and now with my Rossignol BC 125s with old Riva 2 cable bindings.

To bring them into this century, I am upgrading the original felt liners to thermomoldable liners.

They may well last another 10 years.

BTW: I never met a pair of Scarpa boots that I did not like: my Scarpa quiver includes: T3, T2, T2x, T1, and Hurricane Pros.

Edited by bigmitch on 03/18/2014 19:28:53 MDT.

Steve Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
Re: plastic boots on 04/03/2014 23:06:11 MDT Print View

I realize they were a rental, but the nice thing about plastic boots is, for some models (Scarpa is one of them) you can take the tongue off. Dynafit TLT 5/6s also have that ability. I'm intrigued that nobody on here has discussed the "franken-boot" concept, which is basically a Dynafit shell carved down to the bare essentials (i.e. one buckle, no tongue, cuff removed, etc.) Doing this usually warrants the creation of some sort of gaiter to keep snow out of your boot, not to mention the realization that your boot doesn't have much downhill stability...but you've got what you need: a lightweight, warm, waterproof boot that can tour resistance-free.

Regarding skateability...if you mount the Dynafit toe pieces 1" forward of the balance point, this has shown to improve skating with this system. I've skated on 205cm skis (nearly 20 cm longer than properly sized skate skis for my height - 5'10") with this mount job, and I didn't have any problems with it. Anyone looking to build an AT Nordic setup should consider this forward mounting position.

Rest assured, there is no perfect ski boot. In fact, it's a completely accurate statement to say that they all suck in their own way.

3-pin/Tele: as one of the forum guys has stated in the past, it's like driving with the parking brake on. Plus the pin holes are known to rip out and duckbills have cracked in lesser quality boots.

SNS/NNN BC: Toe bar is prone to ripping out, not what you want to happen on a long tour. And the boots themselves, not having a removable liner, are prone to freezing up (again, from a multi-day touring perspective).

TLT/Dynafit: You don't get that ideal kick when your boot is totally rigid, resulting in a less efficient diagonal stride. Hard boots can be rough on your feet...and if you don't have a heel piece, skiing downhill can be a bit nerve-wracking.

Edited by JHypers on 04/03/2014 23:13:53 MDT.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
"franken-boot" concept = obsolete on 04/07/2014 10:08:02 MDT Print View

"I'm intrigued that nobody on here has discussed the "franken-boot" concept, which is basically a Dynafit shell carved down to the bare essentials (i.e. one buckle, no tongue, cuff removed, etc.) Doing this usually warrants the creation of some sort of gaiter to keep snow out of your boot, not to mention the realization that your boot doesn't have much downhill stability...but you've got what you need: a lightweight, warm, waterproof boot that can tour resistance-free."

That was all the rage for awhile:
http://www.wildsnow.com/2180/scarpa-f1-backcountry-skiing-boots/
... but then became obsolete with the increasingly widespread use of carbon fiber in rando race boots.
Most race boots are about 3lb/pair (for size 27), with the more exotic models down around 2.5 lbs, and the more economy-minded models (like the one reviewed here) at about 3.5 lbs.
My own rando race boots weigh less than the nordic backcountry boots that I use on the golf course behind my house, tour with less resistance than my nordic backcountry boots, yet are impressively stiff (almost too stiff actually) for all sorts of steep and frozen ski mountaineering terrain.

"TLT/Dynafit: [...] and if you don't have a heel piece, skiing downhill can be a bit nerve-wracking."
Why would you not have a heel piece?
(And entire pair of race bindings weighs only about eight ounces...)

As an example of the kind of essentially nordic touring that can be done on this kind of gear, the winning time in this year's EMGT traverse (or actually, reverse) was just under eight hours, for about 40 miles and over 8,000' vertical ascent/descent, with competitors burdened by a pretty long emergency gear list.

Edited by jshefftz1 on 04/07/2014 10:11:36 MDT.

Steve Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
Re: obsolete = cheap on 04/08/2014 04:31:30 MDT Print View

I hear a whole lot about these rando race boots, but I have to ask...have you personally toured in them for multiple consecutive days over 100+ miles? Are they warm enough on their own when it's -30F? I don't for a second doubt their downhill performance superiority over a franken-boot. I question whether they will provide long-term, multi-day/week+ comfort and warmth while mostly touring.

Why would you not have a heel piece? When your ski is potentially too narrow or otherwise ill-designed for it. I posted about this concern a while back. It's likely that 50mm-wide-at-the waist BC skis like Madshus Glittertind/Voss can accept the smallest/latest tech heels...but again you run into a price wall.

For me, it's not about having the "best" or absolute lightest setup available. It's about what will work under the conditions I ski in, with the emphasized value of continuously increasing efficiency & decreasing weight based on what's proven, and what I can afford to upgrade. My most recent AT Nordic setup includes Dynafit relics (TLT 4 Pros) elegantly carved down to one buckle & power strap to support the power stringer/heel lock (in case I get heel pieces eventually). After swapping the liner you're looking at just about 5 lb./pair (if nothing else is shaved, snipped or stripped), but with the skis under 4 lb./pair, and the TLT Radical ST toe pieces at 10 oz/pair, the entire system (w/o skins) is less than a pound heavier than the author's advertised setup...all for less than the author's bindings ($180 skis, $200 toe pieces, $125 boots). I will take the minor "obsolescence" weight penalty if it saves me from financial embarrassment.

Edited by JHypers on 04/08/2014 04:43:13 MDT.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
Re: Re: obsolete = cheap on 04/08/2014 07:34:02 MDT Print View

The stock liners in my Sportiva boots are comfy and tour great, but if I were going to take them on the winter Classic I'd want to upgrade them to something warmer.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
"minor 'obsolescence' weight penalty" on 04/08/2014 07:42:40 MDT Print View

Sure, if you can't afford a ~$550 Dynafit PDG or Scarpa Alien on sale, then yes, a hacked-up old Dynafit TLT4 or Scarpa F1 will be nearly free.
But:
"I will take the minor "obsolescence" weight penalty [...]"
- Your setup weighs 47% more than mine (Scarpa Alien 1.0 + Hagan ZR bindings + Hagan X-Race skis w/ tip rocker), and the most important element weighs 67% more than mine (i.e., the lifted/pivoted weight of the boots).
- Furthermore, my setup can go anywhere, no matter how steep, whereas yours is limited to very easy terrain (lacking a heel piece and rigid boot cuff).
- As for long-distance touring in arctic temperatures, yes, if I sized up a shell and substituted in a thicker warmer liner, they would be just as warm as a ski boot could possibly be.

Steve Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
Re: "very easy terrain"? on 04/08/2014 11:05:41 MDT Print View

Be careful with your assumptions, Jonathan.

Skiers with the franken-boot setup, sans heel pieces, won the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic 4 years in a row. Out of a field of 25 racers entered into this year's Classic, there were a total of 0 wearing modern rando race boots. One may have been wearing F1s, but I'm not certain. Since there is no set route that everyone has to follow, people manage the terrain based on their skill sets.

Most Classic competitors are modifying their footwear in some way, AT or otherwise. This year's winners I believe had Solomon SNS boots with a NEOS-type super gaiter glued/riveted on. Their route included a traverse of President's Chair Glacier. The second & third place finishers wore AT mods and completed an even more direct route up the Kennecott Glacier.

You should put your rando race setup to the test and enter next year's Winter Classic. I'm sure you would compete with the usual leaders if you're willing to ski for 15+ hours/day and carry a 30 lb. pack...but even the easiest route on the Classic, especially this current Wrangell Mountains course, is not easy terrain.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
Very easy terrain indeed on 04/08/2014 11:16:28 MDT Print View

If you're skiing with Dynafit toe pieces but no heel pieces, you must indeed be skiing on very easy terrain ... or else you're skiing very poorly on difficult terrain.

Personally, I would rather spend more $ and have the ability to ski well on difficult alpine terrain.
Here's what elite athletes can do on gear that weighs less than nordic touring gear:
http://jasondorais.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-la-sal-traverse.html
http://slcsherpa.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-la-sal-grand-traverse-2014.html
http://sanjuanskimountaineering.blogspot.com/2014/04/lasal-mountains-traverse.html

And the non-elite version on more humble mountain ranges:

http://timefortuckerman.com/forums/showthread.php?t=15945

With only a Dynafit (or similar) toe piece, and no heel piece, descending that line to the left (i.e., just barely out of the shadows) would not be ... fun:

Great Gulf

Fortunately, spending more $ for modern alpine ski touring gear allows for a setup lighter than nordic touring gear, yet easily capable of that kind of skiing.

Steve Duby
(JHypers) - M

Locale: Interior Alaska
Re: Very easy terrain indeed on 04/08/2014 15:22:17 MDT Print View

Like I said, you should give the Classic a try. How well can you skate in those skis?

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
PDG on 04/08/2014 15:42:43 MDT Print View

If I were to fly further than Colorado or Utah for a ski race, I would do the PDG or Pierra Menta.
Skating on skimo race gear is of course nowhere near as good as my skate racing hear, but it works if necessary...