Nov 28, 2008 at 6:17 pm #1232263
@gfinley001Locale: SF Bay Area
I just relocated from the east coast to the SF Bay area, and am looking to learn backcountry skiing now that I have easy access to the Sierras. My interest is less in skiing per se, but rather being able to go winter backpacking in the Sierras using skis as my mode of transportation. I've been reading a bunch of stuff about various types of ski set ups, and am completely undecided about whether I'd be better off with a lighter, flexible nordic setup (say an NNN BC binding), a plastic boot telemark setup, or an AT setup (e.g. Dynafit).
I'm an intermediate alpine skier, but would be happy to put some effort into learning free heel skiing if that would be the best option for me. My confusion is that while I'm primarily interested in traversing ground and not in skiing steep off-piste terrain, I can imagine that to cover a lot of the hiking terrain in the Sierras (e.g. the PCT, which I hiked last year) I'd need to be able to handle potentially steep and variable snow conditions. Weight is important to me – my winter backpacking base weight is around 10-12lb.
Any advice?Nov 28, 2008 at 6:43 pm #1461010
You will always get advice here!
OK, you are distinguishing between Alpine skiing and Backcountry skiing, and are focused on 'winter backpacking' rather than Telemarking. They are in fact quite different.
My wife and I go touring in winter in the 'winter backpacking' mode in the Australian Alps. We used to use 3-pin bindings with light skis and low-cut leather boots. Then we outgrew our old boots, and had to buy new gear this year. But we couldn't find low-cut leather 3-pin boots any more. Oops!
What we found is that the 3-pin market has basically switched over to the Telemark game, with big heavy plastic boots and big heavy wide skis. Trying to cover large distances in Tele gear is an exercise in very sore shins. You can still buy the old light rat-traps, but I am not sure what you do with them these days.
The AT Dynafit market is great for Heli-skiing )and Telemarking too,) but too heavy and awkward for real travelling with a pack imho. We looked at it, and passed on.
After a (very successful) trial with hire gear, we switched to NNN-BC, with Fisher Explorer and Rossignol BC-65 skis and Alpina BC1550 boots. These allow us good touring speed and good turning – better than our older Canadian Bonner Conquest skis for sure! The outfit is lighter than our old 3-pin gear too, and more comfortable.
In passing I will mention that we bought our new gear from Skinny Skis at Jacksons Hole – and were happy with the service.
CheersNov 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm #1461034
nanook ofthenorthBPL Member
It really depends – if you think you'll mainly be using it to access the woods in winter I'd get a NNN metal edged setup or just normal classic skies.
While the NNN setup gives you OK control on the downhill (better w/ practice) if your moving into bigger terrain above the treeline or are more concerned about the downhill I'd move to a AT or tele setup.
If you want to do both you may find that neither setup does the other very well. Probably the best crossover would be something like a Karhu Guide ski w/ a NNN, lightish tele or even Dynafit binding/boot.
I've been cross-countery skiing for 20 years now and have X-country (Skate, NNN and classic), downhill and Dynafit touring skies – they all work but do different things well.Nov 28, 2008 at 8:02 pm #1461036
nanook ofthenorthBPL Member
Rereading your post it sounds like a heavyish NNN might be your best option, another would be Silvereta 404's w/ climbing boots on a shaped wideish waxless meatle edged ski.
Only thing is that even w/ a fair amount of practice those boot/bindings are not great for downhills that you'll run into.
If I were you I might seriously look into a light dynafit setup w/ bellowed boots – like the touring racers wear. Might be a good compromise b/t downhill and up. I think you might be happier w/ a bit of a stiffer boot even if your only touring in the Searras b/c of the vertical nature of the range vs. Australia (might be wrong there).
lol, if your a 26 I have some light touring boots for you in the Gear Swap – Scarpa Lasers, otherwise look for something that can handle downhills w/ a pack. IME you might find the NNN boots a little lacking there. Great for rolling terrain but outmatched when you are dealing w/ elevation gains and losses.Nov 28, 2008 at 8:04 pm #1461037
May I suggest a book?Nov 28, 2008 at 9:40 pm #1461056
At the risk of being repetitious…
NNN bindings are much lighter than NNN-BC bindings. The 'BC' means 'BackCountry'.
> those boot/bindings are not great for downhills that you'll run into.
I agree that the NNN bindings might not be so good, but the NNN-BC bindings with some Alpina BC1550 boots served us well on some fairly steep downhills. I was managing to do some moderate Tele turns with them.
> Sierras b/c of the vertical nature of the range vs. Australia (might be wrong there).
Some truth there. We have a lot of rolling country in our Alps, but we do also have a few steep bits.
This is the summit of Mt Jagungal. We skied down from a bit to the left of the photo.
Maybe you should hire some different kits first?
CheersNov 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm #1461104
Hi Graeme, I spent a decade leading Nordic ski tours for several months a year, including two two-week trips in the High Sierra. Back then I used leather boots with 75mm three-pin or cable bindings and skis that would be regarded as narrow now but were wide at the time (62-72 at the tip)and found these fine on most descents. If descents were too steep or icy for comfort (i.e. above my skill level!) then I resorted to traverses and kick turns, which will get you down most things.
These days I use a wider ski (97mm at the tip) that weighs no more than the narrower ones of the past and which has enough camber to get some glide with a kick wax. I also use plastic boots – Garmont Xcursions, which are designed for touring and are very comfortable. They're the one exception I would make to Roger's comment about "very sore shins" when touring in plastic boots. I've used the Xcursions on two-week long trips, including the one described here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/townsend_winter_in_yellowstone.html, without any problems.
If choosing 75mm gear watch the weight of the bindings. Most cable bindings are heavy and complex and designed for downhill control only. I use Rottefella Riva II cable bindings, which are light and simple. Three-pin "rat traps" (which is what Rottefella means) are an alternative.
I've only used NNN-BC for short periods of time and have never owned this system. However participants on my ski tours sometimes used it and never had any problems that I can recall.Nov 29, 2008 at 2:24 pm #1461106
Oh, and Mike Clelland Telemark Tips book is excellent, as is his other ski book: Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book. Good information and great cartoons.Nov 29, 2008 at 3:54 pm #1461113
Yeah! Like Chris T. said!Nov 29, 2008 at 6:52 pm #1461134
Jonathan ShefftzBPL Member
@jshefftz1Locale: Western Mass.
First, read this book:
(You can read the other referenced books mainly for the enteretaining illustrations of old-school diehard tele skiers ready to ascend slowly and descend even more slowly.)
Second, I think this comes down to whether you have in mind tours that can accomplished with:
— patterned bases ("fishscales"), often incorrectly called waxless skis (since they're an alternative not to glide wax, but only to kick wax, which is more efficient, yet tricky to apply correctly, especially in the Sierra with wide-ranging temps over the course of a day)
— climbing skins
If the former, then either SNS-BC or NNN-BC bindings (pick your boots first, then get the bindings), and some ski like one of the Fischer S-Bounds series.
If the latter, build up a rando race or near-race setup. If you get a true rando race setup (with a Dynafit binding that has no fore/aft adjustment — mount carefully!), you might even be lighter than the SNS/NNN-BC setup. And just like a nordic binding (and unlike any telemark setup), you have a resistance-free pivot *and* the binding stays put on the ski instead of pivoting with the boot on each stride. (But not as good for very long flat sections with lots of rolling terrain. (Though Dynafit rando race setups won this past season's Elk Mountains Grand Traverse *nordic* race.) However, you can compromise by using very narrow skins or kicker skins.
Or you can take on a wee bit more weight for way more fun performance on the downhills, so get a regular Dynafit TLT Speed/Classic binding, a near-race boot like the Dynafit TLT Evo or Lite, Scarpa F1 (as opposed to the F1 Race or various after-market modified F1 boots), or even the F3, or the Dynafit Zzero3. Then for skis something around 70mm or a bit wider in the waist and a normal lenght, vs mid 60s for race ski and ~160cm length.
The other complicating issue is that SNS/NNN-BC boots do not have removable liners, whereas any Dynafit compatible boots will come with some type of separate thermomoldable liner, with the advantages of:
— can be removed for use inside tent in lieu of down booties
— allows for custom fit
— super warm
— can be removed for drying overnight, although then again, they're so light, that even if they're wet in the morning, your feet will still be warmNov 29, 2008 at 11:54 pm #1461157
You could check out Telemarktips.
It is (accurately) billed as a "Telemark and Backcountry Skiing Online Magazine."
Don't go to the off-topic forum, search and ask on the "Telemark Talk Forum".
The folks over there ban be a little (ok, a lot) rough, and they seem to have divided into 2 camps, tele vs AT. Beware a poster named "AT Apostle" – he will have you shaving metal filings off of your (Dynafit) bindings to save weight.
Don't say I didn't warn you.Nov 30, 2008 at 7:20 am #1461174
First, read this book:
(You can read the other referenced books mainly for the entertaining illustrations of old-school diehard tele skiers ready to ascend slowly and descend even more slowly.)
Ooooh, the pain.
I feel like I'm in an old western and the young upstart next to me in the saloon just threw a shot of rock gut whiskey in my face. Next thing, we'll be staring each other down out on the main street and the women folk will be closing the curtains.Nov 30, 2008 at 9:00 am #1461185
Richard LyonBPL Member
@richardglyonLocale: Bridger Mountains
First, an endorsement of three other suggestions. Allen O'Bannon Mike Cleland's two books should be must-reads for any backcountry skier of any type (NNN, NNN-BC, tele, AT). Both tend to be anecdotal rather than didactic, and are easier reads and easier to test out than the competition. The original Telemark Tips book helped more than many lessons to improve my in-bounds and backcountry telemark skiing. And both Skinny Skis and Teton Mountaineering of Jackson, Wyoming can get you set up – once you decide on the type of skiing you want to do. And the telemarktips site is very helpful, though (as someone noted) often opinionated.
From your post it sounds like you are more interested in using skis to get around than to handle 500 meter descents. I'm the opposite – I hike mostly for the turns coming down, and so use plastic SCARPA Terminator (1 or 2) boots and wider skis (Goodes are lightweight; G3 and Black Diamond more versatile). I haven't had foot or shin problems with them, but I'm not usually a long-mileage guy. AT set-ups have improved greatly over the past few years, if you want to stick with fixed-heel downhills. You might try some rentals to see which kit matches your style before making what has become a fairly large investment.Nov 30, 2008 at 10:59 am #1461196
Richard Lyon is my new favorite person, I just hugged my computer. Right on Tele-Brother!
Mike C!Nov 30, 2008 at 5:06 pm #1461282
Mike should illustrate a book about glacier travel and crevasse rescue . . .
Maybe Andy Tyson could help write it.Dec 1, 2008 at 8:05 am #1461361
Sam HaraldsonBPL Member
@sharaldsLocale: Gallatin Range
I feel this conversation is lacking without reference being made not only to gear education but to avalanche education as well. Please, please, please enroll in a free (or inexpensive) level I avalanche and safe winter travel course before heading off into the Sierra (or any other range for that matter).
Visit http://www.avalanche.org/ to find the avalanche center nearest you.Dec 1, 2008 at 2:03 pm #1461428
Jonathan ShefftzBPL Member
@jshefftz1Locale: Western Mass.
The avy chapter in the Volken book is outstanding — based on the AIARE curriculum. (One of the book's coauthors was one of the leaders for my avy instructor training course.)Dec 1, 2008 at 6:35 pm #1461495
Steven NelsonBPL Member
@slnsfLocale: Northern California
And, I'll add to the mix that there are still lightweight touring boots available in both 75mm and NNN configurations from Alpina and Karhu. I have the Karhu Traverse boots (called the "Tour" with the NNN binding) matched with the XCD GT skis and Voile Heavy Duty Mountaineer bindings, and they're a fine combo for touring and skiing rolling trails.Dec 2, 2008 at 8:38 am #1461583
The (really cool) book that was dismissed (with contempt) up higher on this forum – also has an excellent avalanche chapter.
The "old-school diehard" authors (Allen & Mike) both teach avalanche skills in the northern rockies. Allen is level 3 certified, and Mike is level 2 certified. I have been teaching for 14 years, and Allen has about 20 years of teaching experience.
I will add that trying to become avalanche savvy from a chapter in a book is not recommended, that requires a hands-on multi-day course.
Plus, in the (really cool) book, these skills are thoroughly illustrated.Dec 2, 2008 at 1:19 pm #1461646
@foodLocale: Colorado Rockies
I have the NNN bindings on my skinny skis and love them.
However, I replaced the NNN-BC bindings on my backcountry skis with 3 pin bindings because of icing. When waxing/ skinning up the front bar becomes encrusted in ice. The backcountry is no place for a binding failure.
YMMVJan 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm #1473684
Ethan A.BPL Member
@mountainwalkerLocale: SF Bay Area & New England
Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book is an excellent, informative and entertaining read. Mike's illustrations are instructive and a lot of fun. Our local Sierra Club ski chapter uses it as the main text for winter camping/ski touring.
Can anyone make any good suggestions for reasonable weight packs (know this is subjective) that would make good ski touring packs?
The packs should be durable and able to handle and secure the weight and sharp edges of skis and other winter gear, with a volume of at least 3500-4000 cu in. for higher volume winter gear.
And, would you recommend skiing with a small pack on your chest, or a chest pack fastened to your pack straps to balance your weight on skis?Jan 29, 2009 at 1:42 am #1473738
> would you recommend skiing with a small pack on your chest, or a chest pack
> fastened to your pack straps to balance your weight on skis?
Sounds horrible to me.
CheersJan 29, 2009 at 6:03 am #1473747
The last few years I've used a GoLite Pinnacle for ski touring and found it fine. Living in Scotland I often have to carry the skis to the snow and the Pinnacle hasn't suffered from this and is quite comfortable with an unwieldy load. The soft back means that the Pinnacle hugs your back closely so it is very stable when the straps are tightened round the load.
I have tried chest packs/shoulder strap pockets and don't like them as I find they impede my view and feel unstable. However I haven't used them on a long tour so I guess it might be possible to get used to them and to use them more efficiently.Jan 29, 2009 at 8:24 am #1473769
Jeremy GBPL Member
Coming from the frozen tundra of MN, this is how we get around in the winter… but then again we have no mountains, only bumps.
Along with some ski bindings…
Obviously these are no telemark boots and bindings, but I am quite surprised as to how much control they give me. I feel they are even better in some ways than my traditional NNN classical boots and skis. The great thing is that you can switch to walking, snowshoeing, skiing, and even where the liners in your sleeping bag to keep your tootsies warm. Any you can't get any more comfortable than these… they are like wearing slippers!
Just thought I would shake things up a bit here. I do wear these with your traditional 210 backcountry wide metal edge skis. They do give me a lot of float in our fluffy snow.
There's my 2 cents.Jan 29, 2009 at 9:40 am #1473788
Ross BleakneyBPL Member
I do a lot of Nordic skiing in the Northwest U.S. (Cascades and Olympics). This means I ski a lot of bad snow (especially slush). It also means, though, that I can make turns all year. I own several pairs of skis, and a couple pairs of boots. I have NNN boots and back country boots. My brother is towards the other end of the spectrum, in that he owns nothing but back country gear.
A few thoughts come to mind. First, you will probably be skiing on good snow quite often. This makes a big difference. I can make very nice telemark turns with my nordic (NNN) gear when the snow is fluffy, but I can barely snow plow when it is bad. My brother, on the other hand, can make good telemark turns with his heavier gear, even when the conditions are poor.
There is a wide spectrum of gear, from equipment meant to be used on groomed tracks, to gear that could handle terrible snow. Finding good compromise gear sounds like what you are after. For back country gear, I recommend Atomic Rainier skis. They are surprising good on the flats or going up hill, but still have metal edges and can do well on bad snow going downhill. I personally wouldn't get anything heavier, but I tend to have much lighter gear than most folks when I ski on Mount Rainier or Mount Baker. I would definitely stick with leather gear, as opposed to plastic boots. If you go lighter (NNN) then I would get skis with a lot of sidecut. I have a pair (and I forget which model) which has quite a bit of sidecut and I can get around quite well as long as snow is decent.
For packs, I recommend Black Diamond. I use a Black Diamond pack for day hiking, and they are well designed for skiing (they have straps on the side if you need to carry your skis).
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