Jan 9, 2013 at 8:55 pm #1297845
I am puzzled. This community is all about light weight and super light weight backcountry travel for good reason. It works really well. BUT, when skiing comes into the conversation, it seems there is a paradigm switch with a love of many things much heaver than the lightest weight. With skiing, we get into float and control and stiff boots instead of the lightest and most flexible for efficient forward motion.
I used to xc ski a fair amount, and generally used heavier old-school telmark gear like my old-school mountain tent and leather mountain boots for backpacking.
So, where do I draw the line now. Am I really going to be less happy with the lightest backcountry gear than I will with heavier stuff. I want to do longer distance winter backcountry travel on skis. I know I'll do some marginally stupid things on really rugged terrain, but I want to buy a backcountry ski package that will allow me to maximize my mileage while still being at least partially manageable and safe when the slope turns downhill.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, so super light powder is not dominant. I have size 15 (metric 49/50) feet, so finding boots can be a challenge. I envision buying some metal edged backcountry skis, probably 60-80 mm wide and the lightest NNN BC boots I can find. Is this a bad boot choice?
On another note, NIS bindings seem to make a ton of sense for backcountry since an extra backup binding would be light and easy to carry and install if needed. Are there any NNN BC NIS bindings and skis made.
Thanks for any insights any of you may have to offer!Jan 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm #1942401
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> a love of many things much heaver than the lightest weight.
Ever tried using skating skis in fresh powder?
Ever tried using a tarp at 2,500 m in a winter storm?
UL is nice, but survival is better.
> some metal edged backcountry skis, probably 60-80 mm wide and the lightest NNN BC
> boots I can find. Is this a bad boot choice?
Well, that's what we use now, so I'm biased…
CheersJan 10, 2013 at 8:58 am #1942499
You're in the PNW; my expierence is mostly Sierra. I've used narrow telemark gear and wider AT gear, leather free heel and plastic locked down; plus two days on modern fat telemark gear with plastics (which I skied mostly with alpine technicque but found skied downhill better than any of the gear from 10+ years ago)
For spring (generally May) skiing in the Sierra there's nothing that can cover ground like lightweight metal edged "waxless" skis with climbing skins for the steeps. gear is lighweight, fairly narrow so even a soft boot gives you good edge control. You don't need flotation. Timed right start cramponing up the slope in the morning, switch to skins as soon as the surface softens, and hit the pass in time for perfect corn. Ski down, kick and glide across the flats (using the waxless pattern), skate, herringbone, or sidestep up small steeper rises.
In winter though, with everything from deep pockets of powder, to crunchy wind crust, to wind/sun scoured glare ice, nothing beats fat AT gear with enough mass to punch through the junk. (Sastrugi is not a friend of low-mass skis)
So it depends. Horses for courses. If your terrain is mostly either steep up or steep down, (15%+)with variable (potentially dangerous) ski conditions, then I think modern AT gear makes sense. You may save as much time and energy on the downhill (plus feeling safer and more fun) as you overspent on the uphill. AT bindings with a heel lift and good climbing skins let you go up scary-steep slopes like you're climbing a set of stairs. They also let you chose the safest route up (steep through trees and anchor rocks vs. switchbacking up an avalanche-prone bowl).
If the terrain is more rolling, waxless touring gear is way better. Nothing more frustrating than resorting to skins and plodding DOWN a 2% slope on AT gear when you could be gliding on touring gear.
Go to your favorite areas and ask what folks are using. If I grew up on the opposite side of the Sierra my opinions would probably be different. Or just snowshoe up and snowboard down!Jan 10, 2013 at 9:36 am #1942518
We were where you were a few years ago learning to ski in the washington cascades. We starred with nordic gear and have gravitated towards much more capable AT gear. With dynafit/tech bindings they don't even need to be that much heavier.
One thing to consider is that snow mobiliers have dominated lots of the terrain where you could piece together mellow long tours on logging roads and clear cuts (ie the Wenatchee crest/blewett pass area). There are great small non motorized areas like tronson meadows but if you want to cover significant distance in relative solitude you will tend to be inside of the parks or wilderness areas where the terrain is more alpine in nature.
The snow conditions can also be extremely difficult to deal with if you are travelling on anything other then a road. In mid winter you will frequently find yourself in heavy slop or breakable crust that wants to grab your skis and break your ankles. Fatter rockerd skis with releasable bindings help a ton in this situation. Many ski trails in the NW also quickly turn into scrapped out tobogan runs through tight trees and boots and bindings that have enough power to stop you quickly are really nice.
I am sure that there are people doing amazing things on noric gear in the cascades and olympics but the modern generation of light AT gear really open up the possibilities for us non expert skiers.Jan 11, 2013 at 3:33 pm #1942936
With 35+ years of old & new school backcountry mountain kick&glide experience – classic style adding a diagonal kick when conditions allow. The old school leather boots are not nearly as lightweight & efficient as the new synthetics w/hinged cuff.
When I know I'm going to be on a ski trail – w/ pre-packed base, preferably after a new snow – I will use a BBB set-up with narrower skis & just a small buttpack. That lighter weight set-up allows for a fast out & back – basically doing a fast snow run. Using Alpina NNN boots and Asnes Turski – (58-48-52) w/skin-locks.
For actual off-trail backcountry kick&glide w/ parallel & simple tele turn skiing – I always use a 75mm set-up and Asnes Skis w/ skin-locks – the NNN bindings will not compress & turn a 70-80mm ski in non-groomed snow with any efficiency. jmo
For a fast stiff/flexible lightweight boot, the Rossignol BC X11 on a lighter but plenty stiff Asnes Rago (67-57-62) w/skin-locks. Great set-up for a fast out & back but that boot is lightly insulated and may get cold at the end of a long cold day. The ratchet buckles make it really easy to tune the tightness of the boot.
For steeper terrain, longer runs, overnights, carrying a pack & etc. – Look at the Fischer BCX 675 – nicely stiff, yet very flexible and well insulated – coupled with an Asnes Nansen (76-56-66) w/ skin-locks. I'm running an elevated 75mm-cable binding on the Nansens – and use that set-up for area tele skiing when needed sometimes going to a Garmont two buckle plastic – similar to the Scarpa T4.
Fischer has the BCX 875 – similar to the 675 – a little heavier and more insulated – I haven't used them but they look hot & heavy for kick&glide – may be good for a very cold area. For very cold conditions and especially overnight – I use the VBL system for my feet – only way to go, use a couple of heat packs to warm your boots in the morning.
You can find the Asnes at Neptune Mountaineering –Jan 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm #1942993
These responses are a perfect example of where my puzzlement comes from.
There is a significant number of BPL'ers that clearly appreciate the flexibility, control, and fun provided by AT gear. Yet, the BPL community, in general, has been all about more hiking than "camping", more into weight savings for the joy of the trip than the accessories for the joy of the destination.
It seems to me that AT gear is more the accessories for the joy of the destination. Awesome for what it is and what it does, but not light and fast? . . . I watched some snowshoers pass a couple on AT skis on rolling terrain last weekend.
I cannot imagine that AT gear is nearly as light as lightweight backcountry gear. I cannot imagine that rigid plastic boots are nearly as efficient as lighter, more flexible backcountry boots for traveling across anything except the steepest terrain.
. . . but, is my imagination flawed? Is the stiffer, more stable and heaver AT gear really faster than backcountry gear, off track in most situations. Or, is this just an inconsistency in the BPL community where many members love the thrill of doing turns at the sacrifice of speed and distance?
I want to have fun traveling through the winter landscape, for 1-10 days, (mostly Oregon/Washington Cascades) which will surely include lots of rolling terrain, lots of steepish (mostly <30 degree) side hills, a little bit of climbing steeper trails/switchbacks (maybe 20-30 degrees) and certainly a rare stupid climb onto some mountain or ridge-line I have no business being on with the gear I have.
Will I be sorry if my boots are too light and flexible, or will I just travel further and faster while being less able to manage technical terrain? And, how frequently will I be sorry because I am sinking on a 70 mm ski when I could be moving much better on something much wider?Jan 11, 2013 at 6:08 pm #1942997
Mark, Awesome detailed response. Thanks!Jan 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm #1943002
There are two types of AT gear…heavy frame bindings aimed mostly at people who want an a resort ski they can tour on and dynafit or tech style bindings which work with metal fittings in the toe and heel of your boot and achieve binding weights similar to nordic gear. The latter system works so well that some racers in the Alaska Wilderness Ski Classic have even adopted dynafit toe pieces and light AT boots for use on nordic skis because of the greater efficiency, reliability and cold weather performance of the system:
Rando/ski mountaineering race bindings in particular achieve unbelievably light weight at the sacrifice of niceties like heel lifts and adjustable release. I use a bit heavier binding as I want the safety of release and I find breaking trail in deep snow is much easier on bindings with a high heel lifter as it forces the front of the ski up so don't have to lift your ski out of the snow with each step and can just slide along.
Side note: I was out messing around yesterday in 6 inches of fresh on a pair of karhu guides with three pin bindings and I can't understand how anyone thinks that system is efficient for trail breaking…the duckbill boots kept forcing the tips to dive down into the snow and get caught in brush and things.
At boots and skis run the gammet from heavy to light but modern touring oriented boots weigh remarkably little and offer the reliable warmth and comfort of moldable foam liners Again rando boots achieve weight comparable or less then nordic gear but there are also warmer and cheaper options that are just a bit heavier. It also isn't fair to compare weight to nordic boots unless you can find nordic boots of comprable warmth or factor in any overboots or gators etc you plan to use.
As far as skis go, Dave C had the observation in his recent article that, with a few allowances for price, weight is just a function of surface area and at skis come in both skinny and fat (with a fatter ski being preferred by most for breaking trail in and skiing deep heavy wet cascade snow).
You might enjoy the the forums at turns-all-year.com which is a cascade centric backcountry ski forum. It is packed full of all sorts of trip reports of long and short days.
Again also consider again that, because the foothills of the cascades are so low and the peaks so rugged, there simply aren't that many 10 day stretches of snow covered rolling hills unlike higher or further north areas.Jan 11, 2013 at 9:36 pm #1943052
A couple of points that I don't see being mentioned here. One is that when you are discussing AT gear and "light backcountry" or XCD gear, it is not really an either/or thing. There is overlap in several senses of the word. Not only do the weights of the gear overlap, but the skis can go into more than one category. You can put Dynafit bindings on a waxless XCD ski if you want, and it might be a good idea, although screw retention on the heel piece might be an issue with some skis. and the type of terrain you are using the gear on may make one type a better choice than the other, but that is different for every trip.
Another thing is skill level. Some folks, with excellent skills, can handle pretty steep stuff on skinny skis and flexible boots. Mere mortals will be happier with more beef in the boot on steeper terrain or funkier snow. Skiing with a pack makes a big difference as well. Slopes I could ski unladen with lighter boots would be beyond my skills with a pack on. Even on easy terrain, the stability provided by a stiffer boot can be welcome.
If indeed you can find enough rolling terrain to keep you busy touring for years, then you may be happy with a system boot if it keeps you dry and warm for a week-long trip. But my experience in the Sierra is that I ran out of mellow terrain and had to up the ante to find places to go that suit my desire to be out for a week and not see anybody. So I got beefier boots and I am pretty happy with them. I have Garmont Excursions – the lightest plastic boots – and although I do sometimes wish they were a little lighter and a little more flexible, I do like the control I have with them, and I LOVE how they stay dry no matter how long the trip. If I had the cash, I would like to try some rando race bindings and Scarpa F1 carbon boots (AT boots with a bellows at the toe for easier walking and striding), but I am skeptical how good they would be for the rolling parts of my tours – and the rolling parts are a substantial fraction for sure. Since I don't have that cash I'll stick with what I have. And if I could try the AT boots and bindings, I'd stick with the skis I have or something similar – the very lightest end of the metal-edge touring skis spectrum. I like my skis a lot (Atomic Rainiers). They do everything I need them to do pretty well, and I don't feel limited by them – if I was a better skier I could do more on them than I do.
One thing to consider if you go NNN-BC or Salomon is that you will be starting out with the beefiest boots you can get , so that if you decide you want more control it means new boots and new bindings. If you go 3-pin, you can start with a lighter boot and move up while keeping the binding, and also have the ability to pick the boot for the trip you have in mind. Plus I have heard tales of system bindings failing and toe bars ripping out of boot soles – not something I want to deal with 3 or 4 days skiing from the road.Jan 16, 2013 at 8:23 am #1944321
@jshefftz1Locale: Western Mass.
"I cannot imagine that AT gear is nearly as light as lightweight backcountry gear."
Other way around: the best AT gear is *lighter* and also more efficient than nordic backcountry gear.
The former is driven by the big Euro market for racing, whereas the latter has pretty much zero demand (since it's just people casually poking around golf courses, conservation land, and farm land, which is what I'm about to do with our overnight snowstorm on my own nordic backcountry gear once I stop typing this…).
– For my size 26 foot, my lightest AT boots weigh about three pounds, per pair. (Noticeably lighter than my SNS-BC boots.) Range of nearly resistance-free motion when touring is more than what I can max out in my body's stride length. When skiing, all the stiffness I would ever need for any backcountry skiing in any terrain.
– Skis are about three pounds per pair, bindings a little over half a pound per pair. Mohair skins add only several ounces.
– To save some $$, take on several more ounces for not quite state-of-the-art new gear, or also buy used. (Skintrack.com has become a good resource for the latter, although the turnover there is very fast.) Old discontinued Scarpa F1 boots are great for buying nearly free, then hacking down to lighten them up. Dynafit TLT4 is also good for that.
For rolling terrain, if it's a packed-down road, skate. Otherwise, keep it in free heel mode with skins for both the up and the down. Or if you really think a heavier patterned-base ski is the answer (as opposed to a lightweight rando race or skimo model), then just mount that up with the same ultralight rando race / skimo bindings and boots.Jan 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm #1947563
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I agree with Roger Caffin on the skis and boots for MODERATE terrain.
I think "backcountry" NNN boots and bindings are warm enouigh, light enough and torsionally stiff enough to handle almost any condition short of steep and/or very deep (hip deep or more)powder. Use a good VBL and gaiters for best all day warmth.
But DO get metal edges for control on crust/ice and to protect the skis' edges.
And do buy adjustable ski poles or hiking poles with added snow baskets.
Gud tur!Jan 26, 2013 at 11:55 pm #1947580
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
> 'MODERATE terrain' – yeah, mostly. We get a bit of downhill in places. But not Tuckerman!
> Use a good VBL and gaiters for best all day warmth.
> But DO get metal edges for control on crust/ice and to protect the skis' edges.
> And do buy adjustable ski poles or hiking poles with added snow baskets.
Yes, yes and yes. Fully agree.
CheersJan 27, 2013 at 10:32 am #1947662
@tjaardLocale: Minnesota, USA
With those size feet you will have extremely limited options for boots, so my advice would be to first find boots that fit. Once you find some that will dictate the binding.
Once you have a boot and binding, that gives you an idea of the maximum width of ski you can control.
As far as the type of ski, read the 2 recent articles in the technique section and the comments to get a good idea of different set ups from different people.
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