SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies

While the new waxless technologies are mostly in Nordic race skis and high end touring skis, we see promise for their future use in backcountry skis as well.

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by Alan Dixon | 2011-03-22 00:10:00-06

SIA Show Background and Overview

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 1
The 5,000-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch was the host and testing grounds for the SIA On-Snow Nordic Demo. Not quite discernible in the photo are some backcountry Nordic ski tracks down the large sunlit snow slope in the distant right (Marker Hill).

This is the second year that the biggest US Ski Show, the SnowSports Industries of America (SIA) Snow Show, has hosted a Nordic On-Snow Demo. The Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CSAA), a non-profit “to promote the growth and improve the quality of cross country ski operations,” partnered with SIA to organize the Nordic Demo.

One of the main messages from the show was huge growth in interest and sales for backcountry ski equipment. According to SIA, backcountry ski and equipment sales are up 90% to 150% so far this season. A representative for Madshus reports strong backcountry ski sales for their popular “Cross Country Downhill” line of backcountry (BC) Nordic skis like the Eon and Epoch. The Silent Spider, a light backcountry ski, is Fischer’s third best selling ski. To meet interest and demand, Fischer has re-designed their entire line of S-Bound backcountry Nordic skis for 2011/2012.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 2
Two excellent backcountry Nordic skis at the show. Bottom: the new Fischer S-Bound 78 (78-61-69, 2130 g 179 cm). Fischer has redesigned their line of BC Nordic skis for 2012. The main changes are to improve grip, turning, and gliding in soft snow. Top: the “new” Madshus Eon (2160 g 185 cm). This ski is the reincarnation of the Karhu XCD GT - same mold and construction, just different graphics on the deck.

New Waxless Technologies

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 3
At the Demo Atomic, Salomon, and Fisher all introduced “new” waxless grip technologies for 2011/2012. Some of the grip technologies have been in development since the 2002 Olympics, but many are only making their commercial debut for the coming season.

The theme for these waxless technologies is to move away from fish-scale patterns to a smoother grip material that performs more like a waxed ski. That is, good grip but retaining the fast, silent glide of a well waxed ski. For the future, the companies think that there is a possibility of these technologies working their way into BC skis. In fact, Fischer’s waxless technology, Zero, and Salomon’s G2 Micro have already made it to select touring skis for 2011/2012.

Atomic Skintec Waxless

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 4
Atomic Skintec is a high-speed reinvention of kicker skins, and is fast enough to be used on the Nordic race skis shown here. (We see an obvious application to backcountry Nordic skis for this technology.)

Skintech is Atomic’s highlighted technology for 2011/2012 and has top billing on the front page of their catalog. Unlike many “smooth” waxless grip technologies it is designed to work in all temperature ranges.

Skins are new? Yeah, using skins for grip on Nordic skis has been around forever, but skins glide terribly and are slow. Atomic has taken a new approach to make skins faster - fast enough that Skintec will only be on Atomic’s top end race skis for 2012. In simple terms, Skintec is a shorter version of a kicker skin that is integrated seamlessly into the bottom of the ski. The skin is just a smidge higher than the gliding surface. The skin pattern is short, about 30% shorter than the standard wax pocket or fish-scale grip pattern, which helps with gliding. A new “on-off” flex pattern, rather than a traditional progressive flex, works to keep the skins high and off the snow when gliding, and snapping down hard on the snow when kicking. (We were able to walk up some pretty steep inclines.)

We see obvious application for Skintec in BC skiing. With a couple of grip modules, including a skinless, glide-surface-only module, you could easily fine-tune your grip and glide to backcountry conditions much faster than conventional skins (the plates simply magnetize to the bottom of the ski). And Skintec should be faster and more efficient than conventional skins.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 5
A very thin skin pattern is bonded to a plastic plate that drops into a cavity on the base of the ski. When inserted, the plate is flush with the gliding surface of the ski and the skin is just slightly higher than the gliding surface. The plate and skin unit is referred to a “grip module.” Removing and installing the grip module is easy, as it is only held in place by matching magnets in the ski cavity (silver dots) and on the bottom of the grip module.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 6
Currently there are two Skintec Grip Modules. The full skin favors grip over glide; the partial skin favors glide over grip. For backcountry skiing we see an application for a skinless/glide-surface-only module for downhill joy!

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 7
Roman Toferer, Nordic race director for Atomic (with his back to the camera) shows SkinTec to Oskar Svärd. A three time Vasaloppet winner, Oskar is one of the best distance skiers in the world.

Salomon G2 Micro Waxless

Also debuting at the show and new for the 2011/2012 season was Salomon new waxless grip technology “G2 Micro.”

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 8
Unlike all the other technologies presented, Salomon G2 Micro is not a base insert, but a thin layer of grip material permanently bonded to the base of the ski in the grip pocket.

Salomon G2 Micro is not a base insert, but a thin layer of epoxy based material that is applied to the grip pocket of the ski. In addition, G2 Micro skis use a lower camber to work best with the G2 Micro. To make G2 Micro, graphite and silica compounds are mixed with an epoxy resin. The graphite and silica give the G2 Micro material enough texture to grip the snow, but compared to a conventional fish scale, the G2 Micro grip pattern is smooth. G2 Micro has a limited temperature range (-15 C to 5 C) compared to the broader temperature range of a fish scale grip pattern, but within its temperature range, Curtiss Graves of Salomon claims the G2 Micro should outperform fish scales and many waxed skis.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 9
Testing waxless skis in fresh powder.

Salomon Zero Grip Waxless

Salomon “Zero Grip” is a waxless race technology for those tricky, wet conditions right around freezing 0 C (32 F). It is a rubber insert in the ski’s grip zone that is sanded to create a grip texture. It “performs better than kick wax in fresh snow [in] around freezing temperatures.” The Zero Grip base can be fine tuned to conditions by using sandpaper to either smooth or roughen the surface of the grip compound.

Fischer Zero Waxless

Fisher Zero has been used in race skis for a number of years (since the 2002 Olympics). It is a finely textured rubber compound. Zero looks smooth, and it glides silently like a smooth based waxed ski. You have to touch the Zero surface or look closely to discern the tiny surface filaments that grip the snow. Like the Salomon Zero Grip, the Fischer Zero base can be fine tuned to conditions by using sandpaper to either smooth or roughen the surface of the grip compound.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 10
The new Zero grip section on the Fischer Superlight Zero ski (lower ski) compared to the more conventional fish-scale Crown grip section on the Superlight Crown Ski (upper ski).

Fischer Zero was originally conceived as a waxless race technology for those tricky conditions right around freezing, 0 C (32 F). In a 2009 race in just such conditions, the top six finishers were all using Fischer Zero skis.

According to Peter Ashley, VP for Nordic Products at Fischer, 20-40 F is a good working temperature range for Zero. At lower temperatures Zero tends to “grip too well.” I tested Superlight Zero skis from -20 to 1 C (-14 to 34 F). In warmer temperatures (20 F and above), Zero skis behave more like waxable skis - they glide well and delightfully make no noise. It, or an improved version with a broader temperature range, might be potential technology for the warmer temperatures of spring backcountry trips.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 11
A detail of the Zero waxless grip material on a touring ski. The grip section is longer than a race ski and has two Zero grip materials. The center grip section (yellow/green) is softer and has more grip than the Zero used for a racking ski. The end grip sections (orange) have less grip as they transition to the gliding surface of the ski. In the touring ski, the orange/transition grip material extends slightly beyond the grip pocket.

When I tested Zero skis at -20 C they worked well enough in smooth set tracks and climbed like crazy, but they tended to grab a bit when skied out of tracks into fresh (hard and sharp) powder to descend a hill. I really needed to concentrate on “heels down and tips up.” And the skis stuttered a bit in the track at any place spindrift had blown in.

Fischer must have confidence in Zero and its broader applications since they have added it to select touring skis for 2011/2012. Their extremely popular performance touring ski, the Superlight, will come in a Zero version for 2011/2012. As befits a touring ski (versus a racing ski), the Superlight Zero favors grip a bit more over glide. We would imagine a similar grip configuration for a BC Nordic spring ski, if and when Fischer decides add it to their S-Bound series of BC skis.

SIA Nordic On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Technologies - 12
Early morning setup on the first day of the Nordic Demo.


Citation

"SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies," by Alan Dixon. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/new_waxless_ski_technologies_2011.html, 2011-03-22 00:10:00-06.

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SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies on 03/22/2011 16:31:51 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: new skis on 03/22/2011 19:38:12 MDT Print View

Very interesting report Mr. Dixon! The thought of waxless skis with better glide and the same or better grip is a very nice one. Hope the technology pans out and filters down to the fatter skis you discussed.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Atomic "skins" on 03/23/2011 13:07:21 MDT Print View

Thanks for this update on waxless tech. It apppears the Atomic "skin plates" pose the most promise for backcountry skis.

More aggressive skin plates could be carried for steeper climbs. Much better than the present heavy, cumbersome and 'spensive skins, of which I presently have two pair.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies on 03/23/2011 16:38:42 MDT Print View

Oh Bother! We had just bought new BC skis.
For those who may not know: that's what we in Australia call cross-country touring. We have a lot of suitable country, although the snow is slowly dying as everything warms up.

Thanks Alan

Cheers

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies on 03/24/2011 14:21:53 MDT Print View

Wow! That's fantastic. What a great report.

20-40 F is a good working temperature range for Zero
That covers about 90% of the skiing I do. The Pacific Northwest is famous for slushy snow. Having skis that not only do well in these conditions, but are geared towards it, would be very nice indeed. Of course, then I would have to get two pairs of all of my skis. :)

The Fischer S-Bound skis are actually a line of Fischer skis that range from fairly skinny to decent sidecut (although pretty wimpy by today's standards). Some of these have metal edges, while some do not. I'm not surprised that the Silent Spider is a popular ski. I believe it replaces the Inbound Crown, which is a great compromise ski. It is light (no metal edges) but has decent sidecut (10 mm difference) with enough flotation to make your own tracks. It is a great ski for logging roads or backcountry touring if the snow is good and the terrain isn't too steep.

I would love to hear more about ultralight skiing. This is an inevitable compromise, of course. The lightest gear is the skinniest, and is meant for groomed tracks (by racers at that). It can be used in the backcountry, but only if the snow is really good and the terrain is really mellow or the skier is really, really skilled. On the other hand, I would love to hear reviews of skis that carve well despite their really low weight. With a really lightweight ski, you can pair it with lightweight boots, so that the overall weight is really low. Being light on my feet is one of the main reasons I switched from alpine skiing a long time ago.

David Olsen
(oware)

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Skinny skins on 03/24/2011 16:09:24 MDT Print View

"Thanks for this update on waxless tech. It apppears the Atomic "skin plates" pose the most promise for backcountry skis.

More aggressive skin plates could be carried for steeper climbs. Much better than the present heavy, cumbersome and 'spensive skins, of which I presently have two pair."


If you have extra climbing skins, slit one in half top to bottom. You end up with
a nice light skin good for steep climbs with skating gear or adding to waxless when you
need extra grip. Very light and compact.

E J
(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
brilliant on 03/24/2011 21:46:15 MDT Print View

David that is a brilliant idea!

. .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies on 03/24/2011 22:02:16 MDT Print View

I somehow missed this article amongst the Cuben HH and Ahren chit-chats. Thanks for the write-up, Alan. I would be keen on trying some of these systems with a tele set-up, as they become available. It has been several years since I worked in a b/c ski shop, so I don't keep up on this stuff as well as I used to. This is a pleasant surprise to see this report here on BPL!

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
BPL covering Lightweight and UL Backcountry Skiing? on 03/25/2011 10:55:23 MDT Print View

> This is a pleasant surprise to see this report here on BPL!
and
> Wow! That's fantastic. What a great report.
> I would love to hear more about ultralight skiing.

To all,
Thanks for your vote of interest in BPL covering Lightweight and UL Backcountry Skiing. There is a possibility that we will address this topic in more depth this fall.

-Alan

Brendan Mulholland
(dools009) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
thanks on 03/26/2011 02:15:20 MDT Print View

Alan,

Thanks for a great update. Add another enthusiastic vote to see more UL ski articles by BPL.

Cheers,
Brendan

Matthew Duchow
(Duchow) - MLife
Thanks on 04/06/2011 18:54:13 MDT Print View

Thanks much for the informative article! This may just convince me to get back inot the skiing game.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
the rando race scene on 04/06/2011 18:59:34 MDT Print View

Ultralight backcountry ski gear has already been covered at various blogs for the last few years by various rando racers.
Here's a quick taste of it:
http://www.wildsnow.com/4228/rando-race-gear-review-2/
This gear is lighter than my nordic backcountry setup (Fischer Rebound + SNS-BC + Salomon Raid), yet I can ski true steep mountaineering terrain with it.
The most telling evidence of this gear's efficiency is that it now dominates what was previously considered to be a nordic backcountry race:
http://www.elkmountaintraverse.org/

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
light backcountry gear on 04/06/2011 20:14:42 MDT Print View

There is no question that rando race gear is at the cutting edge, especially w/r/t weight (and boot tech). What is less obvious to me is the extent to which it applies well to a definition of backcountry skiing that goes beyond the up-down focus of skiing mountains into the realm of rolling and flatish yet untracked terrain.

First, the desirability of some sort of waxless base is for me axiomatic outside a fairly narrow range of geography and conditions. Race skis, or any ski influenced by race tech, lack this.

Second, I'm not at all convinced that Dynafit is superior to 3 pin and system bindings for rolling terrain. Some degree of forward resistance seems here a good thing (though Luc Mehl will disagree with me).

Third, race gear is stupid expensive, such that only the wealthy, sponsored, or fanatical can afford it.

I look forward to rando race technology, and a general realization that huge gear is not always the answer, to continue to cross-pollinate other realms of ski gear.

Edited by DaveC on 04/06/2011 21:31:58 MDT.

Ryan W
(mwilks) - F
Thanks on 04/06/2011 20:28:20 MDT Print View

Also wanted to add my thanks for a well done article. I really hope to see more ski articles like this one and Luc's in the future.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
BPL > BPC on 04/07/2011 05:31:16 MDT Print View

Certainly some backcountry ski terrain is too rugged for nordic race gear (whether waxable or patterned base) yet somehow not quite well suited for rando race gear, such that the most efficient choice would be some mix-and-match setup from the two worlds. Well, maybe not so certainly, especially given the lessons learned from the EMGT.

But anyway, although the oft-cited military source for the 5:1 (or 6.4:1?) ratio seems to be apocryphal, saving weight on your feet (whether walking or skiing) is far more important than the equivalent off your back, yet whenever discussion here turns to ski gear, BackpackingLight.com becomes BackpackingCheap.com. And besides, unless you wanted the very latest and greatest, rando race is quite affordable.
For example, for less than $200 you can buy a pair used F1 boots and modify them into what was a state-of-the-art setup only a few years ago:
http://www.wildsnow.com/2180/scarpa-f1-backcountry-skiing-boots/
And the Dynafit Low Tech Lite econo race binding has been on sale for $360:
http://www.bentgate.com/dynafit-low-tech-lite-binding.html
(Note though that the pictured heel unit is incorrect.)

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
BackpackingCheap on 04/07/2011 10:20:20 MDT Print View

It's always been BPC for me! I refuse to spend more than 200 bucks on a shelter (for instance).

Reading about all the skin failures during the Elk doesn't exactly sell me on race skis and mohair being a solution for rolling terrain.

Jonathan Shefftz
(jshefftz1) - MLife

Locale: Western Mass.
failure or reliability? on 04/07/2011 11:29:39 MDT Print View

Those teams spent that many hours breaking trail that many miles in the dark, with that many transitions, and the worst that happened is that they had to go to their backup skins -- sure sounds more like proof of gear reliability to me.

Jörgen Johansson
(Jorgen) - M

Locale: www.smarterbackpacking.com
Skintec on 04/07/2011 11:51:12 MDT Print View

Very interesting indeed. I've just returned from a week-long trip at the very north of the Scandinavian peninsula. Having used my ancient Fisher Crowns I am in the right mood for looking at new solutions.
One thing worries me about the Atomic Skintec though: In my neck of the woods, winter wilderness travel often entails skiing on rivers and lakes. I know it is similar in wild areas in many parts of the world. Something you are bound to run into sooner or later is overflow, water sitting on top of the ice but covered/insulated by snow. Bringing your skis out of this slush in cold weather will immediately freeze the water into ice that has to be, sometimes painstakingly, scraped off. I wonder if it would be possible to ever get ice like that off the Skintec without access to a warm house or a fire?

Michael Clow
(MikeClow) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountain West
Re: SIA Nordic Ski On-Snow Demo 2011: New Waxless Ski Technologies on 04/10/2011 11:44:27 MDT Print View

Great article. I'm glad to hear the manufacturers are working on improvements to fishscales. A fat, turny waxless BC ski with good grip and still good glide sounds like Nirvana!