Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

This is the World Famous TelemarkTalk / TelemarkTips Forum, by far the most dynamic telemark and backcountry skiing discussion board on the world wide web. We have fun here, come on in and be a part of it.
hrishi
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 1:43 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby hrishi » Thu May 11, 2017 1:47 am

Hi there, My first post! :)

I am a novice skier and trying to figure out where nordic backcountry skiing ends and Tele/AT begins.
From what I have read so far, I understand that nordic skiing is usually done on 'hikable' terrain (<30 deg slopes, scalable with snowshoes), while Tele/ AT skiing is meant more for a 'mountaineering' style terrain (30 deg+ slopes, crampons, ice axe etc). However, I find little information on use of nordic setup on 'hikable' alpine terrain. For example, several 14ers in Colorado can be scaled in winter via low angle ridgelines with snowshoes. However, most online discussions regarding 14er skiing go into 'ski mountaineering' realm and begin and end with AT gear and high-angle couloir descends.

So far, I've taken a lesson in XC and then done 3-4 beginner un-groomed trails in Colorado. I am 5'11" and weigh 165-170 lb. My aim is to be able to ski on hikable terrains- both below and above treeline- in a easy-going fashion. While I would like to do multi-day touring at some point, right now I am more interested in long day hikes. The most strenuous hike profiles that I would like to ski include 2500-4000 ft elevation gain in 5-15 miles round trip, including some easy 14ers. Currently I use snowshoes, but looking for a faster and less tiring way to traverse. I am not interested in speed or turns (definitely not tele turns) per se, but would like to check the speed using turns (snow plough, step, or parallel turns- whichever works) wherever necessary. I am hoping to get a one-ski quiver for this and based on several online reviews and discussions, it seems I have 3 options:
1. Skis such as Madshus Eon, Fischer Excursion 88 or Rossi BC 90 with 3-pin cable bindings, and leather boots such as Crispi Antarctic. Here I am not sure what size skis to get.
2. Shorter (~160-165 cm) and fatter skis such as Madshus Epoch or Annum or Altai Kom with 3-pin cable bindings, and Excursion or Scarpa T4 boots
3. Altai Hoks. Not sure what size/ bindings/ boots.

Are these setups reasonable for most 'hikable/ snowshoe-able' terrains, even above treeline? (I intend to carry microspikes for icy conditions.) I understand skier skills matter a lot, but seeking the general norm here. Which of the three setups would you recommend me for the intended application?

Additional questions I have concern the Hoks:
1. Would the universal bindings suffice for both 125cm and 145cm Hoks for the above application?
2. Has anyone successfully tried rigid-soled mountaineering boots on the universal bindings? If so, I will be tempted to use Hoks not just for the hikable terrains, but also as approach skis for mountaineering terrains: ski to the base of a snow climb (say a 30 deg+ couloir), climb it using crampons and mountaineering techniques, glissade down (I'll be too scared to ski down such slopes), and then ski back to the car. The compactness of Hoks is intriguing in this sense.
3. In the above (#2) context, I wonder how the universal bindings (with alpine boots) compare to Silvretta-style bindings often used for similar application

Thoughts, comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome.


Thanks,
Hrishi

Cannatonic
Posts: 421
Joined: Thu Nov 27, 2014 10:07 pm

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby Cannatonic » Mon May 15, 2017 3:22 pm

Sounds like any of your options would be good - what type of conditions and trail are you usually on? Are you staying on established trails that are mostly consolidated snow, or are you traveling more on deep powder?

since you're in Boulder you can check out Neptune Mountaineering. They sell Asnes skis which are ideal for these pursuits, with different size kicker skins and full skins available. I like the Asnes Ingstad/Nato Combat, Gamme 54, and Nansen for what you describe, with 3-pin bindings and the Antarctics. These are all good at covering distance and climbing with skins, but very efficient for long distances too. I'm guessing you won't be very happy dragging a heavy AT setup over 10-15 mile tours.

hrishi
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 1:43 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby hrishi » Tue May 16, 2017 12:18 pm

Thanks for the reply, Cannatonic.

The snow conditions I usually am are variable- fresh to consolidated to wet slushy snow. On icy, crusty snow I will use microspikes or Crampons (if steeper). So far I mostly stick to trails, but being a landscape photographer, I do venture outside of trails to get a better vantage point.
Here's a real example of the terrain I would like to ski in, just because its so fresh in my mind:
Two days back I did a snow climb (with steeper, 45 degree angle + slopes; required mountaineering boots, crampons and ice axe) to Quandary Peak (~ 14,250 ft) in Colorado. The climb required ~ 2 mile gentle approach hike (ascend ~800 ft). The descend was by a ridge- much gentler slope (of average 10 degrees, though a couple of very short patches were steeper- 30+ degrees) which was a ~3000 ft descend in ~3 miles (https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7002074). This was excruciatingly frustrating as I didn't take my snowshoes along (I thought I would be back before the crusty spring snow turned slushy, but I did't) and I was postholing upto thigh deep almost the entire way. Of course snowshoes would have helped, but ideally I would like to be able to ski down such slopes, as well as ski up the approach hike.
In my OP I mentioned 5-15 mile distance. I would like to add that the average <10 miles and may be I should optimize the setup for shorter distances?

Thanks for the Asnes and Neptune Mountaineering suggestion. Asnes Combat Nato/ Ingstad seem really good skis and fall in the Option 1 in my OP. I did go to Neptune, but they are under a new ownership and don't have much gear to show as yet (they hope to get back to normal stock by the next ski season though). I rented Madshus Eons w/ NNN-BC and Alpina leather boots from them, and had a really good time skiing on a beginner trail (5 mile round trip, 320 ft elevation gain).

Right now, I am more interested in understanding which of the 3 'types' of ski setups would work best, and once past that stage would like to focus on specific skis. Earlier I was almost sold on the Option 1, but now am beginning to wonder if fatter and shorter skis would serve me better. Altai Hoks also seem very intriguing, especially if the universal binding would work well with my existing hiking and mountaineering boots- just like snowshoes. (I understand Altai recommends flexing boots on them)

User avatar
lowangle al
Posts: 598
Joined: Sat Jan 11, 2014 4:36 pm

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby lowangle al » Wed May 17, 2017 1:48 pm

I thought you would be better off with a Hok type ski if you want to do the trips that you are currently doing. I would encourage you to keep up the Xc skiing also and as you get more experienced and know what the equipment will do in certain conditions you can decide what it is right for the trip you have planned.

Hopefully when and if you rely on skis more for your trips you will stick with Nordic gear and not go AT with the masses. For the terrain you describe I think you will be happiest with a light plastic boot with a wider shorter ski.

User avatar
lilcliffy
Posts: 1185
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2015 7:20 pm
Location: Stanley, New Brunswick, Canada

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby lilcliffy » Wed May 17, 2017 5:22 pm

hrishi wrote:Hi there, My first post! :)

Welcome!
I am a novice skier and trying to figure out where nordic backcountry skiing ends and Tele/AT begins.

While there is significant overlap between "Nordic backcountry" and "Telemark"- the only shared technology with "AT" is "alpine touring" skis. As a novice skier the most imprtant thing is racking up hours and hours skiing. Hours and hours spent doing any Nordic skiing will help develop Nordic skiing skills.
From what I have read so far, I understand that nordic skiing is usually done on 'hikable' terrain (<30 deg slopes, scalable with snowshoes), while Tele/ AT skiing is meant more for a 'mountaineering' style terrain (30 deg+ slopes, crampons, ice axe etc). However, I find little information on use of nordic setup on 'hikable' alpine terrain. For example, several 14ers in Colorado can be scaled in winter via low angle ridgelines with snowshoes. However, most online discussions regarding 14er skiing go into 'ski mountaineering' realm and begin and end with AT gear and high-angle couloir descends.

Telemark tech is "Nordic" ski tech. The world of Nordic ski tech ranges from pure xcountry, to high-performance downhill skiing- modern "Telemark" boots and bindings have become engineered to offer optimal downhill skiing performance. Generalised guidelines are pretty vague- but, at opposite ends of the spectrum is Nordic technology designed to offer maximum distance-oriented XC performance, and tech designed to offer downhill performance- and then EVERYTHING in between. A skilled Nordic skier can push tech out into contexts that stretch category boundaries. For example- a skilled skier can make effective downhill turns using a distance-oriented BC-XC setup.

My fundamental perspective and advice is this: focus on SAFETY and limiting factors.

Backcountry skiing inherently poses risks- risks that make limiting factors critical safety issues. For example- tackling a 30 degree (60%) slope on a distance-oriented BC-XC kit is not a big deal for me if I am close to access and on ideal snow. But, if I am backcountry skiing in remote mountains- I want ski tech that will allow me to effectively and safely ski downhill- and I will giveup some XC performance for increased downhill safety and performance.

In short- I would not be comfortable advising that you get anything less than a boot and binding that offers decent downhill stability and control.

The most strenuous hike profiles that I would like to ski include 2500-4000 ft elevation gain in 5-15 miles round trip, including some easy 14ers.

Sounds like a lot of climbing rather than XC traversing- am I right? What goes up must come down- you need downhill stability and control.

Currently I use snowshoes, but looking for a faster and less tiring way to traverse. I am not interested in speed or turns (definitely not tele turns) per se, but would like to check the speed using turns (snow plough, step, or parallel turns- whichever works) wherever necessary.

You need boots and bindings supportive enough to safely ski downhill- this means making turns. Skis will definitely be faster than snowshoes- but they require downhill skiing control and skills.

I am hoping to get a one-ski quiver for this and based on several online reviews and discussions, it seems I have 3 options:
1. Skis such as Madshus Eon, Fischer Excursion 88 or Rossi BC 90 with 3-pin cable bindings, and leather boots such as Crispi Antarctic. Here I am not sure what size skis to get.

Although offering "better" downhill control than a double-cambered XC ski- this is still a distance-oriented setup- not a downhill-oriented setup.
2. Shorter (~160-165 cm) and fatter skis such as Madshus Epoch or Annum or Altai Kom with 3-pin cable bindings, and Excursion or Scarpa T4 boots

More suitable boot. Epoch and Annum are very similar somewhat turny "fat" soft-snow XC skis. Kom is a better "up-down-turn" ski- much better downhill than Epoch/Annum. Other options to Kom: Vector BC- or an "alpine touring ski" with climbing skins. (You will want climbing skins with ANY of these skis in your context.)
3. Altai Hoks. Not sure what size/ bindings/ boots.

EXCELLENT bushwacking ski- need a tiak/lurk for serious downhill stability.
Are these setups reasonable for most 'hikable/ snowshoe-able' terrains, even above treeline? (I intend to carry microspikes for icy conditions.) I understand skier skills matter a lot, but seeking the general norm here. Which of the three setups would you recommend me for the intended application?

At least T4 power; go for much more downhill performance than group 1 above.

Additional questions I have concern the Hoks:
1. Would the universal bindings suffice for both 125cm and 145cm Hoks for the above application?
2. Has anyone successfully tried rigid-soled mountaineering boots on the universal bindings? If so, I will be tempted to use Hoks not just for the hikable terrains, but also as approach skis for mountaineering terrains: ski to the base of a snow climb (say a 30 deg+ couloir), climb it using crampons and mountaineering techniques, glissade down (I'll be too scared to ski down such slopes), and then ski back to the car. The compactness of Hoks is intriguing in this sense.
3. In the above (#2) context, I wonder how the universal bindings (with alpine boots) compare to Silvretta-style bindings often used for similar application

Would not recommend the universal binding for any true long distance trip- nor for serious downhill support. I find them purely utilitarian- bushwacking, hunting, field work, etc.

You need metatarsal flex to Nordic ski.

Hope I am helping you somewhat!
The pursuit of XCD balance: cross-country AND down-hill skiing in the backcountry

User avatar
satsuma
Posts: 95
Joined: Sat May 03, 2014 10:31 pm
Location: Walla Walla, WA

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby satsuma » Thu May 18, 2017 12:11 pm

I am a distance-oriented Xc skier and don't own any skis that wide, so `I won't comment on downhill capabilities of skis and keep my comments in context.

1. Unless you are skiing late season or on previously used trails, I think you will typically find the snow in your location quite powdery. Therefore, I would recommend wide skis to keep yourself on top of the snow. In fact, I am not sure that skis will be an improvement on snowshoes for traversing/climbing in this type of terrain. The skis will be faster downhill.

There are certain locations in Northeast Oregon where I ski that have that type of snow, and my skis (Discovery 68) are not really adequate, I will experiment next year with the Explorer 88, which I can rent, but I am not sure they are adequate either. As I don't ski this type of snow that often, I am not ready to buy wider skis.

2. As a beginner, I think making turns down 2500-4000 ft would be very difficult and wear you out. The powder, however, may slow you down downhill. If you are not concerned with speed, you should certainly consider using skins on your skis going downhill. I like to have this option going downhill on narrow, ungroomed trails.

hrishi
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 1:43 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby hrishi » Thu May 18, 2017 12:43 pm

Thanks for your responses, Lowangle_al and lilcliffy.
Lowangle_al, I don’t intend to get AT unless their prices come way down. Also, the philosophy behind AT seems more about speed and performance oriented, where as I am just looking for a more utilitarian, easy-going, slow paced setup. While AT seems more safe due to the releasable bindings, I would just like to avoid steeper slopes. Some AT boots double as mountaineering boots, and hence are tempting, but I would definitely do more ‘winter hiking’ than mountaineering. Then the only temptation for AT is that its supposedly easier to learn (the parallel turn), but in another thread, it seems p-turns can be made on nordic gear as well. Plus I don’t have downhill skiing background (for which AT seems a natural backcountry equivalent). May be I’ll look seriously towards AT if I get comfortable enough to go for steeper slopes in avalanche terrain, but it will likely take many seasons. And hopefully by then the AT gear’s progress would have trickled into tele-gear.
lilcliffy, thanks for helping me understand the terms. I guess by nordic, I was referring to XC, and hence wanted to understand where XC (stiffest boots: excursion/ T4 et al) ends and tele (more burly boots with more buckles) begins. Now its very clear. Also agree with you on safety, and that safer downhill would merit more weight than touring performance.

So it seems Hoks or short-and-fat skis like Koms, BC 125, Vector BC are the ones to go for my intended ‘hiking’ terrain. Eventually, for gentler terrain, I would like to have a faster, touring oriented setup such as the USGI or Karhu surplus skis w/ 3-pin and leather boots.
So between Hoks and short-and-fat skis, which one? Rationalizing the choice:
My main attraction for the Hoks is the universal binding, as then they become a complete replacement for snowshoes. However, as lilcliffy pointed, if those bindings are not desirable for the intended terrain, then the rationale for hoks is limited to
1. lighter weight 2. smaller size, hence maneuverability 3. permanent skins (like I mentioned, I am not after speed)
Short-and-fat skis are not that heavy, plus if i decide to look at AT skis, then they might be also very lightweight. so point #1 can be ignored.
maneuverability: I guess with time, I can learn to maneuver normal skis as well as the Hoks? Plus, Tiak/ Lurk seems to be extremely important in getting stability in the Hoks and I wouldn’t want to carry something so long on my hikes (unless they make them collapsible).
permanent skins: As a beginner, I like the idea of having these. But then I can just use full-length skins on any skis and have ‘permanent skins’?
Thus, it seems all +ves of the Hoks can be re-created by short-and-fat skis. Plus such a ski would provide better downhill stability as well as more glide (after removing skins, if needed). Is there something I am missing here?

To summarize, a short and fat ski with T4/ excursion type boot and 3-pin bindings with removable cables seem to be the way to go. If so, then my next question is about the length of the skis: I understand they need to be short, but how short?
I am 5’11” and weigh 165-170 lb, while my wife (we do almost everything together!) is 5’2” and weigh 90lb. So how short should we go?

Another question: have Excursions been discontinued? I could not locate them on Scott website, and not many places sell them.

hrishi
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 1:43 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby hrishi » Thu May 18, 2017 12:50 pm

Thanks Satsuma for your comment.
I am okay with no advantage (in terms of speed) while traversing or uphill. I hope there would be some advantage in energy saved for not having to lift every step. The downhill advantage is what I am after as due to it I can save significant time and hopefully do longer hikes or do hikes more slowly/ enjoy more.

I see your point about wearing out while these descends. May be I can continue using snowshoes for steeper hikes, while simultaneously get better with skis or just aim for somewhat strenuous hikes until I get better..

Cannatonic
Posts: 421
Joined: Thu Nov 27, 2014 10:07 pm

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby Cannatonic » Thu May 18, 2017 6:20 pm

ultimately having a bunch of different gear is the best, you need multiple options. If I was going to kick steps up some 45-degree climbs there's nothing better than hard plastic boots, same with skiing down this terrain. Would not bring the duckbill leather boots that day! But skiing up and down the moderate grades with the 3-pin and Ingstad and shortskins is a great feeling, you practically float by the people with full skins on AT gear. You don't need to be the most stylish tele skier in the world, I can usually cobble together some combination of tele and parallel and XC techniques to have fun on the way down.

it's cool that Neptune rents all this gear, that's a great way to try stuff. The new manager said they plan to order a full complement of Asnes gear this fall.

hrishi
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon May 08, 2017 1:43 pm
Location: Boulder, Colorado

Re: Nordic backcountry setup for above treeline

Postby hrishi » Fri May 19, 2017 1:19 pm

I agree, Cannatonic. I have absolutely no intention of skiing down those 45+deg climbs, but rather mellower sloped ridges such as this (the very same from last weekend, ~3000ft descent in ~ 3 miles):

Yeah, Neptune's rental is great as they rent stuff that is not available for rent otherwise. However, I must point out that their rental is also expensive. For example, the Madshus Eon w/ NNN-BC manual bindings, Alpina 1600 leather boots and adjustable poles cost $50/day. Another ski shop in Boulder- Crystal Ski shop- rents Rossi BC 70 w/ NNN-BC auto bindings, Rossi BCX6 boots, and non-adjustable poles for $20/day, and their higher setup of Rossi BC 110 w/ 3-pin bindings and Excursions costs $35/day. I had good experience with both shops. However, now I would like to get my own gear, hence this thread.


Return to “Telemark Talk Forum”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider], Google Feedfetcher, hrishi, Yahoo [Bot] and 13 guests