Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

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hrishi

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby hrishi » Thu Jan 18, 2018 1:03 am

Okay folks, back from a hut trip where we (my wife and I) skied up 7 miles and 2000 ft to Harry Gates hut in the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. We faced with such terrain a lot. While coming down, we were able to do ski down them in patches using uphill snowplough turns (can't tele turn yet) similar to what Lo-Fi suggested (it wasnt obvious to me, so thanks so much for suggesting, Lo-Fi!). It was awesome! :) However, there were also one or two stretches that were even steeper and narrower and icy. We saw even tele/ AT folks with plastic boots skin down these patches. With our leather boots and XCD setup and beginner skills, we couldn't do them even with full length skins, and chickened out again and carried the skis down. ;)

lilcliffy wrote:You ask what gear would we use- but what gear are you skiing on these trails? Skis? Boot? Bindings?

My wife uses S-Bound 88 with NNN-BC and leather boots, and I use Atomic Rainier (88-60-78) with 3-pins and leather boots (I have cables, but since my wife has to make do without such an accessory, I don't use them out of solidarity ;))

A few things I realized during this recent trip:
1. All most all other skiers were on tele/ AT. There were two brothers who made it to the hut with skis narrower than ours and without skins(!) but they grew up in Norway and have been skiing such skis for all their lives. Unfortunately for XCD, one of them has decided to switch to AT (ski talks over dinner!).
2. Our skis are too long for each of us (~ 12cm longer than our respective heights), and when we tried to ski with one ski on deep-snow shoulder and other ski on the consolidated snow as a half plough, they would frequently get stuck in the shrub roots (hidden in the deep snow)
3. A major section of the trail was a logging road open to snowmobiles. So it was a mix of several ski lines, snowshoes, postholing, and snowmobile tracks, all crusty/ borderline icy. Going downhill this stretch was very tricky as our skis would not listen to our leather boots (despite applying as much strength/ pressure as possible) and steer in and out of tracks on their own. While snowploughing, instead of shredding the snow off the uneven surface, they would bounce off of these surfaces and result in a bumpy, fast, uncontrolled ride downhill. Thankfully, the weather was great and the sun made most of this road section softer, but my toes and heels were fatigued.

Telerock wrote:Note; it is usually best not to remove both skis without first checking snow depth; I have stepped off my skis into 3-4’ powder, and it can be difficult to climb back onto them.
Wow, this indeed happened! Thanks for the tip!

Given all this, and referring to my gear advice thread's OP: https://www.telemarktalk.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1568&hilit=nordic+backcountry+above+treeline, may be option 2 of T4/ Excursions + short and wide skis such as Annum or even Kom would have been better?
I am also tempted by Hoks, thanks for the tip, Teleclub! To me, they seem lighter, cheaper, and easy to move around than a Kom-type ski. But I am concerned about their performance on consolidated snow.
teleclub wrote:You may find it's more fun and maybe safer and easier to control your speed off the trail in deeper snow, than it is to rocket down the tight packed trails with minimal or no turning.
I tried this and it worked to an extend with my skinnier-than-hoks skis. I really liked it!

lilcliffy wrote:Hoks are amazing XC and downhill skis- if the snow is deep and soft- I find them virtually useless on dense, consolidated snow.
Lilcliffy, could you elaborate on this please? Do they not hold edge as well as Koms?

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby lilcliffy » Thu Jan 18, 2018 10:12 am

hrishi wrote: we couldn't do them even with full length skins, and chickened out again and carried the skis down. ;)

I don't see this as being a chicken at all my friend- people die trying to do things dangerous things in the backcountry.

My wife uses S-Bound 88 with NNN-BC and leather boots, and I use Atomic Rainier (88-60-78) with 3-pins and leather boots (I have cables, but since my wife has to make do without such an accessory, I don't use them out of solidarity ;))

Right- now this is all coming back to me. You are using XC equipment.

When trekking in remote, potentially dangerous wilderness- my personal perspective is to focus on limiting factors- or "control points". Obviously one of these control points is getting down very steep, narrow trails with difficult icy snow. If you wish to ski down these trails you need both downhill skills and downhill equipment. Once you are off these dangerous trails, how much distance do you have to ski? The potential problem is that downhill equipment is not very efficient when XC skiing. So- if you feel the XC sking is the more important control point, then I would get setup to climb and descend on foot with your skis on your back (I have done MANY tours where this was the best option). When I say on "foot" you may want to be able to use crampons, and/or mountaineering snowshoes (with built-in crampons) to make the climbing/descending safer and more efficient.

As far as the downhill skiing of those trails- using stiff plastic boots and downhill bindings will definitely give you more control, stability and safety, but you still need downhill skiing skills to ski on that kind of terrain. It sounds dangerous to me....

A few things I realized during this recent trip:
1. All most all other skiers were on tele/ AT. There were two brothers who made it to the hut with skis narrower than ours and without skins(!) but they grew up in Norway and have been skiing such skis for all their lives. Unfortunately for XCD, one of them has decided to switch to AT (ski talks over dinner!).
2. Our skis are too long for each of us (~ 12cm longer than our respective heights), and when we tried to ski with one ski on deep-snow shoulder and other ski on the consolidated snow as a half plough, they would frequently get stuck in the shrub roots (hidden in the deep snow)
3. A major section of the trail was a logging road open to snowmobiles. So it was a mix of several ski lines, snowshoes, postholing, and snowmobile tracks, all crusty/ borderline icy. Going downhill this stretch was very tricky as our skis would not listen to our leather boots (despite applying as much strength/ pressure as possible) and steer in and out of tracks on their own. While snowploughing, instead of shredding the snow off the uneven surface, they would bounce off of these surfaces and result in a bumpy, fast, uncontrolled ride downhill. Thankfully, the weather was great and the sun made most of this road section softer, but my toes and heels were fatigued.

Sounds like downhill/Telemark equipment would be safer for all of this...

Given all this, and referring to my gear advice thread's OP: https://www.telemarktalk.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1568&hilit=nordic+backcountry+above+treeline, may be option 2 of T4/ Excursions + short and wide skis such as Annum or even Kom would have been better?

The Annum really sucks on hard/dense/icy snow. The Kom- though a slow XC option- is stiffer than the Annum- but is 98mm underfoot, you will need quite a boot to hold the Kom on edge on hardpack and/or ice...

I am also tempted by Hoks, thanks for the tip, Teleclub! To me, they seem lighter, cheaper, and easy to move around than a Kom-type ski.

The Hok and the Kom are both short and equally manouverable- and they are both wide- intended for deep soft snow.

lilcliffy wrote:Hoks are amazing XC and downhill skis- if the snow is deep and soft- I find them virtually useless on dense, consolidated snow.
Lilcliffy, could you elaborate on this please? Do they not hold edge as well as Koms?

I cannot say wether they do...I have only skied the Hok with either soft leather XC boots (Alpina Alaska) or my hiking-backpacking-mountaineering boots (Scarpa Wrangell) and the X-Trace Universal binding.

The Hok is wide and has little sidecut- I would need at least a T4/Excursion class boot to effectively hold it on edge on hardpack and/or ice.

The Hok is a bush ski- a ski for the dense forest. It performs best in deep soft snow- and in densely forested conditions. No matter what the Hok is slow- it is short, soft, has very little camber, and has an integrated skin. The low camber of the Hok (there is almost no camber) means that the skin is dragging- all the time.

BUT- in dense forest and deep snow, the Hok is a "high performance" ski- it floats (even better than my 195cm Annums), it is short and manouverable, and the rockered, fat, high profile tip breaks trail like no other. The Hok is a lot of fun downhill skiing too- but it is a SKI (not a snowshoe, or skishoe- whatever)- point them down a slop and they will quickly remind you that you are skiing! Although I find them manouverable, the Hok is so short it becomes unstable at speed.

The use of a single pole ("tiak") is highly recommended if you are going to ski steep terrain with the Hok!
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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby Woodserson » Thu Jan 18, 2018 10:36 am

hrishi wrote:
beginner skills

2. Our skis are too long for each of us (~ 12cm longer than our respective heights),


I think this is very pertinent. What length 88's and what's your wife's weight according to this graph?

<150 lbs. -169 cm

145 - 190 lbs. -179 cm

185+ lbs. -189 cm

I'm not entirely convinced that AT/Telemark gear is the way to go since the OP is a beginner skier. From what I gather with the pictures on the first page, all the mention of snowmobile trail travel, well skied out hiking trails with switchbacks, and what seems to be a bunch of skiing below treeline, I think BC Touring XC skis like the 88 are probably acceptable and maybe the best fit for this couple in the particular situation. ***Difficult to ascertain and take with a healthy pinch of your own gut feeling-- as I am in a warm kitchen drinking coffee and have never skied this route in far-away CO***

The fact that lots of other people are on full-fledged alpine gear does not necessarily mean that's what is best. I routinely meet people on trails in the White Mountains that were designed for skinny XC skis (which I am skiing) and they are on full AT equipment with giant skins plodding along. I am more an exception as people and commercial interests have migrated away from the equipment that may be best in these scenarios.

and when we tried to ski with one ski on deep-snow shoulder and other ski on the consolidated snow as a half plough, they would frequently get stuck in the shrub roots (hidden in the deep snow)


Yes, this happens. It could be because your skis are too long, it could happen because it's a narrow trail, but it's also part of BC travel.

I commend both of you for your gung-ho ambitiousness. That being said, keep practicing! Be careful! A lot of this could be chalked up to skill level. Stay safe, take off your skis when you deem it necessary, don't get hurt when you're deep in the woods.

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby hrishi » Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:31 pm

Woodserson wrote:What length 88's and what's your wife's weight according to this graph?

<150 lbs. -169 cm

145 - 190 lbs. -179 cm

185+ lbs. -189 cm


She is very light- ~ 90 lbs, and skis 88s in 169 cm length. Unfortunately, there ain't a lot of options for such ski profiles below that length. I think Rossi BC 90 comes in 160cm, but that is still not 'short' for my wife (whose height is 157 cm). I think something like 150 cm would be great for her. Then I can retire my Rainiers and instead ski on her 169 cm 88s.

Woodserson wrote:I'm not entirely convinced that AT/Telemark gear is the way to go since the OP is a beginner skier. From what I gather with the pictures on the first page, all the mention of snowmobile trail travel, well skied out hiking trails with switchbacks, and what seems to be a bunch of skiing below treeline, I think BC Touring XC skis like the 88 are probably acceptable and maybe the best fit for this couple in the particular situation.


This is a great insight, and while planning this trip, I spent a lot of time on studying the terrain toposheets to see if it would be okay for us, and on XC skis. So I now my conclusion is: the hike can be done with an XC setup, but not comfortably at our current skill level, and with the long skis.
Just to clarify, the snowmobile trail was a section, and the steep switchbacks were other sections. I don't have pictures from there, but I measured the slope (after falling; thought I was anyway very close to the ground :lol: ) to be 15 degrees. For reference here's a picture from one of the steep section near the trail head (there is barely any snow!).
IMG_6486.jpg

The snowmobile section was very mellow, but we had trouble wherever snow was crusty- our skis would just get into one of the groves and refuse to get steered.
IMG_6498.jpg


Great perspective about the 'control points', lilcliffy.
lilcliffy wrote:Sounds like downhill/Telemark equipment would be safer for all of this...

We really like the feel and simplicity of leather boots and XC backcountry skis, and hope to continue to use them a lot. But as we also wish to do steeper 'hikes' eventually. We now have a used, cheapo tele setup as well- Garmont Excursions and T4s as boots, and (relatively) shorter tele skis with Targa bindings. We took them to a resort and found making snowploughs and snowplough turns in them super easy compared to our backcountry experience from these two hikes. So I am now inclined to take this setup if we are doing a similar trip in the future. I guess with more experience we will be better able to decide whether to bring an XC vs tele setup to a particular hike, and hopefully as our skills improve, we can expand the use of XC stuff to steeper trails.

So far all our gear is used and old as we just wanted to learn the basics and have fun. But for the next season, we are thinking of investing in more appropriate gear for the steep terrain. Basically,
1. A pair of short XC skis for compact/ firm snow; paired with leathers
2. A pair of Kom type skis for soft snow; paired with plastics
3. Kicker skins and full skins for both pairs
I am intrigued by Hoks also because they can be driven with leather boots. So in case we don't find 88s-like skis in < 150cm, Hoks might be the ticket for my wife. I think the key question to answer would be: How do Hoks perform on compact/ firm/ crusty snow?
Also, can a Kom-type ski be paired with leather boots on mellow slopes but with compact/ crusty snow (like this hike)?
If so, and if we are unable to find short XC skis for my wife, then we can have just a single pair of short skis and use it with leather or plastic boots depending on the terrain slope, distance, and conditions. We don't really care for the loss of glide/ speed.

lilcliffy wrote:I have only skied the Hok with either soft leather XC boots (Alpina Alaska) or my hiking-backpacking-mountaineering boots (Scarpa Wrangell) and the X-Trace Universal binding.

A somewhat unrelated question- are you able to use the X-Trace binding with a stiff mountaineering boot? I thought toe flex was needed to use the X-Trace binding. If that is not the case, Hoks with X-Trace could get a lot of use from the mountaineering community as snowshoes replacement approach skis.

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby 12gaugesage » Sat Jan 20, 2018 8:28 pm

I'm not an expert skier at all but I'm a big fan of the Hoks on narrowly broken in hiking trails. They climb like goats, and if conditions and terrain necessitate, their short length allows for a pretty agile sidestep up or downhill. On narrow snowshoe packed trails they glide decently and dont have much room to wander, and you can drive them around tight turns quite deftly. Its almost like rollerblading through the woods, awesome. On a wide, firm, crusty snowmobile trail they can be hard to keep straight, probably all skis are, but the Hoks might be particularly inefficient in such conditions.
The fixed skin itself checks speed on a descent to a degree, but they are short enough to get a snowplow on walled in trails, and you can push and drag your tails and edges in to the walls to get more drag.
On steep, straight descents the short length can come out from under you, but Im kind of big for a 145cm ski, and a relative novice. With a 3pin binding and the T4 boots its less of an issue for me, seems like a single pole technique solves the issue too, just haven't tried it yet.
If Im really concerned about a descent Ill sidestep down it, Ive gotten quite proficient at it.
The 3pin and T4 drive the hell out of the Hoks, a great combo, but nnnbc or the xtrace do pretty well too once you get the hang of it.

All in all skiing on singletrack hiking trails is a blast, I prefer a shorter ski and a stout boot, hope you develop a system that works well for you!
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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby lilcliffy » Sun Jan 21, 2018 7:44 pm

hrishi wrote:
So far all our gear is used and old as we just wanted to learn the basics and have fun. But for the next season, we are thinking of investing in more appropriate gear for the steep terrain. Basically,
1. A pair of short XC skis for compact/ firm snow; paired with leathers

What is the terrain like with this snow? My best XC skis for this type of snow is my 210cm E99 Tour- not short- they track beautifully even on hard, broken up snow- and, I can easily drive/steer them with BC-XC boots.

I am intrigued by Hoks also because they can be driven with leather boots.
I don't agree that the Hok can be driven with leather boots- they can certainly be used as XC skis with leather boots- and they can be "rode" downhill with leather boots- but I need to use a single pole to ski truly steep terrain with the Hok- even when the snow is ideal. IMHO- you need a full-on Telemark boot to drive a ski as wide as the Hok....I would want my T4s if I was going to try to hold the Hok on edge.

So in case we don't find 88s-like skis in < 150cm,
You should be looking at the Madshus Eon of you want a midwidth XCD ski with a soft flex. My 13-year-old daughter- strong, but a featherweight- could easily control the flex of the 165cm Eon at 90lbs.

Hoks might be the ticket for my wife. I think the key question to answer would be: How do Hoks perform on compact/ firm/ crusty snow?
IMHO- the Hok sucks on hardpack- they are a soft snow ski. They perform best when they are breaking trail through deep soft snow- they don't even perform that great when skiing in their own tracks- they are most stable in deep fresh snow. They are useless on hardpack.

Also, can a Kom-type ski be paired with leather boots on mellow slopes but with compact/ crusty snow (like this hike)?
Though I haven't even skied my Koms yet- they will be miserable as XC skis on hardpack.

If so, and if we are unable to find short XC skis for my wife, then we can have just a single pair of short skis and use it with leather or plastic boots depending on the terrain slope, distance, and conditions. We don't really care for the loss of glide/ speed.

165cm Eon...

lilcliffy wrote:I have only skied the Hok with either soft leather XC boots (Alpina Alaska) or my hiking-backpacking-mountaineering boots (Scarpa Wrangell) and the X-Trace Universal binding.

A somewhat unrelated question- are you able to use the X-Trace binding with a stiff mountaineering boot? I thought toe flex was needed to use the X-Trace binding. If that is not the case, Hoks with X-Trace could get a lot of use from the mountaineering community as snowshoes replacement approach skis.

You need a metatarsal flex to use the X-Trace- they are a Nordic binding. The Wrangell only has a 3/4 shank- it has a natural foot flex.
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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby Woodserson » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:02 am

hrishi wrote:The snowmobile section was very mellow, but we had trouble wherever snow was crusty- our skis would just get into one of the groves and refuse to get steered.



So this just happens. This is part of traveling overland on snowmobile trails. I actually use it to my advantage as it can act like a track and takes a little bit of the thinking out of the equation and I can start putting down miles. If you're going down a hill with tracked up snowmobile tracks, it can get exciting and fast and you need to find inventive ways of slowing down. Turning can definitely be a challenge. I find it a challenge with turn skis and the skills to turn them.

Per your wife's weight, LC has a good recommendation with softer Madshus, also- Fischer made the S 98 in a 159cm version (my wife skis this ski in the mellow BC around town). They no longer make this length, you'll have to find it used.

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby HBS » Tue Jan 23, 2018 3:27 pm

I skied this exact route last February! We had a bigger base then but the snow on the way back was icy hardpack that made the downhill portion extra spicy. Snowplowing was not very effective!

One member of my group had I believe S-bound 88s with NNN-BC and did really well but he comes from a lifetime of downhill and telemark skiing. I struggled on the switchback section and did walk a few of the steeper pitches down. My girlfriend who has relatively little nordic or tele experience walked down the most. She and I were also on NNN-BC gear, me with the Asnes Nansens and her with the Liv BC. So there's definitely a big skill aspect to it and the learning curve on nordic gear does seem a lot steeper than stiffer boots and wider skis. Conditions of course make a huge difference as well, you would probably have a lot less trouble descending in deep powder or even just with a thicker base of packed powder.

This year I've noticed a big improvement in my nordic skiing after really learning fixed heel downhill skiing, I imagine learning to tele would be even better. I feel a lot more control over what my edges are doing and can even pull hockey stops on skinny skis now. I think you two and my girlfriend and I all bit off a little more than we could chew with that trail but maybe in a year or two going back with similar gear would be a fun comparison.

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby lowangle al » Tue Jan 23, 2018 5:02 pm

Well said HBS. There's a lot to learn, especially with light gear.

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Re: Skiing down narrow, steep, switchbacky hiking trails

Postby hrishi » Tue Jan 23, 2018 11:52 pm

This is great. Thanks all for contributing.

LC, excellent recommendation regarding using a soft flex ski- I was so concerned with the length that did not think of this aspect.

12gaugesage, thanks for your experience on using Hoks! I can imagine using them exactly like you use them. I am still pretty tempted, but considering the gear we already have, adding a Eon-type ski for my wife seems like the simplest solution for now. I wish I could just try Hoks!
Also, just for reference, listing some skis that I found over the internet, of profile ~95-65-75 and in short lengths ~150 cm. Of course they are precise skis aimed for ski mountaineering races, but I am guessing by their profiles and softer flex, they could work in 'XCD on narrow, compacted snow' context? Just a thought; they are also very expensive.
1. Voile WSG; 84-63-72; 150cm; 750 gm
2. Hagan Ultra 65: 95-65-78; 151cm; 640 gm
3. Fischer Alpattack: 99-65-81; 151cm; 650 gm (for 161cm)

Woodserson, good to know- getting shorter ski will help lifting them and may be tackle the crusty snowmobile slopes better.

HBS, awesome! Great to read your experience on the same trail! You are right about the learning curve- last April (when I was just started XC skiing) I couldn't even go down the Brainard lake road (the easiest downhill possible, right?) without falling. Simply improving posture, engaging core etc. made such a big difference!

So last Sunday I attended a telemark clinic at a nearby resort (Loveland ski area), and it was awesome- within 2 hours I was able to link tele turns on a green line! It was a powder day, but early skiers had packed the lines a bit. Still, I was blown how easy it was to turn with short tele skis (K2 Piste Stinx, 102-70-91, 167 cm- 13 cm shorter than me, and whole 25 cm shorter than my XCD skis), Targa bindings, and Garmont Excursions than in my nordic backcountry ventures! I also faked a narrow trail towards one of the edge of the ski line and tried doing what Lo-Fi suggested- it worked so well! Since I was the only beginner (due to my lack of piste experience, they listed me as a first timer), I virtually got a private lesson from a very good instructor! She was also delighted that I had read Allen and Mike's Tele tips book, so she kept referring to the cartoons from the book- it was fun!

I am excited how this season is turning out for me! It would be fun indeed to repeat these trails after a year or so and compare the experiences!
Last edited by hrishi on Wed Jan 24, 2018 1:18 am, edited 1 time in total.


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