Advice on lessons for ski backpacking
Jan 6, 2023 at 6:33 am #3769380
I started getting into winter backpacking this winter and have done a bunch already. There are a couple destinations I want to cover later this spring that are a bit too far for snowshoes so thinking of doing them on skis. Question is whether “cross country ski” lessons at a ski resort are any good for this or is it better to just go to a local hill and practice? I don’t plan to do anything extreme … it’s going to be locations accessed via forest roads so mostly low angle terrain. As background I’m an expert level snowboarder + had a one day ski lesson many years ago (I remember I was able to get down the green slopes). Thoughts?Jan 6, 2023 at 7:43 am #3769381PaulWBPL Member
@peweg8Locale: Western Colorado
Lessons for sure. If you have any nearby outdoor shops like REI you might check what they offer. Years ago I took some backccountry ski lessons through a local mountaineering shop and they proved invaluble. Something to keep in mind is that skiing with a backpack is very different than snoeshoeing with a backpack, so having some skiing skills under your belt is a good idea.Jan 6, 2023 at 7:56 am #3769383
The range of gear available for what you are describing is a bit hard to cover in a single post and it will really depend on how steep the climbs are, whether you are breaking trail in deep snow, whether you want to learn telemark technique, etc. I think that your first decision will be what gear you need and it would probably be helpful to go to REI or something similar to see the different options.
Personally, I would be uncomfortable going into the backcountry on Nordic skis because if I ran into a descent that was steeper than expected, I would not be able to handle it, especially in trees with a backpack. So I would be inclined to use AT/randonee gear with skins. You can get pretty light AT gear with wide skis that would allow you to handle absolutely anything that you can handle on regular alpine skis, so you could just take some standard lessons. For longer, faster hikes and less extreme descents, skimo gear might work well for you, especially if you’re not breaking trail in deep snow.
If you went this route, you would just need to brush up on some standard alpine technique, and obviously you’d need to learn how to use the AT-style gear (using skins, converting from walk to ski mode, etc.).Jan 6, 2023 at 7:59 am #3769384Stephen TSpectator
If you are going to be on cross country skis (not alpine touring) then a single lesson at a Nordic center would be super helpful in understanding how to stop and turn. Then you can practice on your own at the Nordic center before heading out. Cross country skis are completely different beasts than alpine touring/downhill skis that you use for downhill skiing.Jan 6, 2023 at 8:15 am #3769387
Thanks for the quick responses. I’ll sign up for a lesson then.
Hey Dan! So regarding the difficulty of controlling Nordic skis in the backcountry is it in general a good idea to go with AT/randonee gear then? I don’t intend to do anything difficult this year at least but I’ll likely be doing harder stuff pretty quickly so ideally I don’t want to get into any gear that is only good for simple stuff.Jan 6, 2023 at 8:38 am #3769389
I’m sure that there are people who can do great with Nordic/telemark gear in the backcountry, but that’s not me. I find it challenging to navigate significant descents on Nordic skis even on open groomed terrain without a heavy pack. As Stephen mentioned, it’s completely different from the type of downhill skiing you may be more familiar with, largely because the boots are quite flexible and attached to the skis only at the toe.
In the backcountry, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with my Nordic limitations, because I just never really know exactly what the conditions will be like, or where I may have to go. I suppose you could have Nordic skis for easy terrain and carry snowshoes as backup, that would be plausible. But most people I know use AT gear for winter backpacking or hut trips. As I mentioned above, skimo gear would be a compromise, it’s basically lighter/narrower AT gear that is often used for racing. But it probably wouldn’t be a great choice for skiing powder or breaking trail in deep snow with a pack. And you have to keep in mind that you can get a huge dump while you are camping, or you might want/need to leave the trail (or get lost).Jan 6, 2023 at 8:58 am #3769392
Makes sense! Thanks for the insightsJan 6, 2023 at 9:40 am #3769396Stephen TSpectator
I agree completely with Dan. If you will be going in an area with significant descents, then I agree that AT gear would be critical because cross country skis Do not do well with steep ascents or steep descents. If you are in an area, that’s mostly flat or gentle rolling terrain then cross-country gear would be easier because you’re not constantly having to stop and put on skins and then take them back off for the downhill. All of this may be limited by your ability to acquire the gear. That country cross country, skis, and especially boots are difficult to come by this winter. We bought a backcountry XC setup for my wife in November and REI did not have boots that would fit her available anywhere across the country.Jan 6, 2023 at 10:25 am #3769399
Stephen’s caveats are spot on. Where I live, there’s really no such thing as mostly flat backcountry, so my advice was probably biased towards my own environment. If you are on pretty flat terrain, I can see how relatively wide Nordic skis with edges would be VERY convenient. Also less expensive and more comfortable.Jan 6, 2023 at 11:03 am #3769400nunatakBPL Member
Voile makes AT skis with scales, which is the best of both worlds. On rolling mellow terrain no skins are needed so you just cruise along. Skins are in the pack for the biggies. Some trips I ski 80% without skins – which is a huge improvement in glide and control and enjoyment.
I have had the Objective BC for 5-6 seasons, a capable all round ski with enough floatation for anything but the mid winter pow. Pared with minimalist tech bindings and a two buckle skimo boot, this setup is lighter than my three pin/leather boot/edged and scaled cross country skis. Even with skins on the Objectives.
Skimo boots in walking mode are very comfy. The are lower and cradle your leg less aggressively than big mountain hunkers. There’s still plenty of stiffness and control when buckling down, imo.Jan 6, 2023 at 1:27 pm #3769417
Hmm yea the gear choices are certainly a bit bewildering for a beginner. I do have the luxury of a lot of free time at the moment so I’m thinking I’ll pick up whatever maximizes scaling up to more ambitious terrain even if I do mellow stuff initially.
Love the Voile scaled ski recommendation btw. I’m all for anything that reduces hassle … even if it’s at a slight cost of downhill speed (which is not really important for the trips I have in mind)Jan 6, 2023 at 2:04 pm #3769427
The Voile Objective BC (with the herringbone climbing pattern) are awesome for rolling terrain. I love mine. They are way faster on the flats than dealing with skins, and can climb mellow slopes. It is a pretty big investment getting skis, skins, light A/T bindings and boots though.Jan 6, 2023 at 2:40 pm #3769431
I hadn’t heard of those Voile skis before, but they sound like they might be a good compromise for the OP, since it doesn’t sound like he’s going to use them for major descents in powder. I just looked them up, and apparently they are about 82mm underfoot. They sound awesome for a long approach.Jan 8, 2023 at 7:28 am #3769531Bob KernerBPL Member
You (OP) didn’t mention where you are in the world. East Coast, West, Europe etc. Find a shop, probably a mountaineering shop, in your area and go talk to people who actually do what you want to do and try some equipment. Many shops rent gear.
I XC skied years ago, and cannot imagine doing any sort of up and down terrain with a backpack on using that setup, especially if you don’t already know how to XC ski. I hate to always be linking to this guy’s website, but Luc does some of what you describe (I think) and has a few pages describing kit and why he chose what he chose.
REI, at least the ones by me, carry a very limited supply of ski equipment. It would not be my first stop either to buy gear or consult about gear. I don’t buy stuff from people who don’t actually know what it does!Jan 8, 2023 at 2:23 pm #3769561Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Cross country skis are completely different beasts than alpine touring/downhill skis that you use for downhill skiing.
But you do NOT need heavy AT gear for XC touring. Neither my wife nor I have ever owned any. Just long narrow XC skis – with full packs. Mind you, a little bit of sidecut does help.
Lesson #1: the sitzstop.
CheersJan 8, 2023 at 4:25 pm #3769569
Roger is correct. The OP stated “…locations accessed via forest roads so mostly low angle terrain.” That is not a scenario where even minimalist ‘ski-mo’ racing or light alpine touring gear is really needed.
A good compromise ski would be some thing like the Fischer OTX series (e.g., Excursion 88) which use Fischer ‘Easy Skins.’ These are medium-width, waxless, metal-edged skis with a herring scale kick pattern, but that also have a short skin that can be attached through a slot in the ski just ahead of the binding that will give you skin coverage for just the ‘kick pocket.’ When you need to climb a moderate slope you can throw the skin on, but because it is not full coverage your speed is not greatly diminished, but it provides much better climbing traction than just the waxless pattern by itself. You would mate this with an NNN binding (not ‘NNN BC’ which are a joke), giving you the choice of any number of lightweight and comfortable cross country skiing boots (we use skate skiing boots for the ankle support). You’re not going to be slaying any pow or ripping big lines with this set up, but it is an extremely light, comfortable, adaptable and efficient set up for mellow touring through rolling terrain. This would also be a strategy that would cost well less than half of what an alpine touring set up would. I would invest the most money in the skis and skins, and then buy used or bargain basement NNN bindings and maybe used boots off eBay. Definitely buy a high-quality set of poles. Those make a big difference.Jan 8, 2023 at 5:08 pm #3769573Bob KernerBPL Member
Have a look here for some information. Every winter I promise myself that I will get back into XC skiing but the snow hasn’t really justified the expense. A buddy of mine gets his stuff from this shop and the information seems pretty comprehensive.Jan 9, 2023 at 7:49 am #3769623
Philip sure knows a lot about interesting hybrid gear, I’m learning a lot from this thread.Jan 9, 2023 at 11:21 am #3769669
I’m glad you are enjoying it, but I feel a bit chagrinned now that we have literally recommended the entire gamut of ski setups to Khris. If I were new to this I think I would feel more confused than enlightened by this thread, haha.Jan 9, 2023 at 12:28 pm #3769676
I think it just illustrates how diverse the options are, and how much it really depends the terrain and conditions. We are all probably biased towards imagining our own environments, and we really don’t know what the OP will encounter.Jan 9, 2023 at 1:59 pm #3769686nunatakBPL Member
Exactly; modern gear is very versatile. Just this morning two buddies and I did a fast paced 10 mile mile loop with 1200′ of vert. Moderate cross country stuff; nothing groomed, mostly old tracks but some breaking trail. One guy was on steel edges and kick wax, another on scaled skinnies, and the last on uber light skimo gear with scales. No skins were used. All kept pace and had blast.Jan 9, 2023 at 2:57 pm #3769692
Here are a few pics of the sorts of conditions we would use these ‘crossover’ skis for. It’s mostly frozen river and canyon cruising.Jan 9, 2023 at 3:29 pm #3769693Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Now that is difficult terrain! With bad consequences too.
CheersJan 9, 2023 at 3:34 pm #3769694David GardnerBPL Member
@gearmakerLocale: Northern California
Downhill/Alpine skis with Nordic/telemark bindings can ski anything, including 55* backcountry couloirs. This is Bela Vadasz skiing “Chute Out” at Ellery Lake Bowl, Yosemite.
After a weekend of lessons from Bela I skied the Sierra Winter High Route with Alpine ski/Nordic binding rig in 1992.
And the Dana Couloir in 1993
But, ultimately, it was the class and the skills gained there that made any of it possible.Jan 9, 2023 at 3:36 pm #3769695
The water bodies are very shallow, so you would just end up a bit damp if an ice shelf collapsed. And a lot of river valleys are just nice for cruising.
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