BCXC in the Seattle area

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SkyLiner
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BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by SkyLiner » Thu Dec 13, 2018 7:23 pm

Help me out! I need some experience to figure out what skis to get, but I need some skis to get some experience...

I grew up in the northeast and I used to mess around in the woods on some skinny XC touring skis. I never went on groomed tracks, just mellow trails in the woods. I also did some alpine skiing and a lot of snowboarding.

Now I live in Seattle. I get out all over the cascades during the summer, but I've been lacking in winter sports. I want to start getting out into the woods in winter, and back country cross country skiing sounds great. But I don't know if the kind of mellow in the woods XC skiing that I did in the northeast is easy to find near Seattle.

I've been intentionally staying away from back country downhill skiing because I don't want to add too much avalanche exposure to my risk budget. I do some high excitement stuff (that has some risk) during the summer, and I know it would be easy for me to get really into skiing steep stuff, but I'm not sure I want to go that direction. In the summer, fast dayhikes and ultralight backpacking are my way of getting out in the woods without a lot of complication and risk. Basically, I'm looking for the winter version of that.

Searching on the internet, it is easy to find info about groomed XC ski trails, but I can't find much specific info about ungroomed XC skiing within 1 or 2 hours of Seattle. Is that because that terrain doesn't exist out here (like, by the time you get high enough for snow, everything is already too steep?), or is it just that this is a low key activity that doesn't generate a lot of noise on the internet?

Another part of this question is, can you find nice back country XC terrain to explore that is reasonable to access without having avi gear?

I'd love to hear from anyone doing this kind of skiing in the Seattle area. Is what I'm looking for possible? What kind of skis do you use?

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by Coolwhip » Thu Dec 13, 2018 7:50 pm

I'm not from the Seattle area, but there's got to be some info out there. Have you checked out this club? http://www.wstc.org/

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by SkyLiner » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:46 pm

Coolwhip wrote:I'm not from the Seattle area, but there's got to be some info out there. Have you checked out this club? http://www.wstc.org/
Yeah, I also think this info has got to be out there somewhere! I did browse that site, but didn't see anything specific about what I'm looking for. Their organized trips seem to be either groomed XC, or full on AT with skins (as far as I could tell).

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by SkyLiner » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:48 pm

I left my first post as short as I could, because I'm most interested in those questions. But I also have a lot of detailed gear questions that I'd love advice on if anyone is inclined. I've already gotten a lot of great info searching on this forum.

I'm trying to get setups for both me and my girlfriend. Me: 5' 8", 130 lbs. Her: an inch shorter, and a few (<5) lbs lighter.

I described the kind of skiing we're hoping to do in my first post. I guess a lot hinges on the answer to those questions, in terms of what terrain is available and safely accessible in winter. I imagine that there are many miles of mellow logging road to explore around here, but I just don't know the reality yet.

I may be interested in downhill turns someday, but for now I'm leaning more towards kick and glide. My girlfriend has less snow experience than me, and she is more comfortable starting out with distance oriented touring.

We may want to go to the groomed XC tracks sometimes, so a ski that fits in the tracks MIGHT be a nice feature. But groomed trails are not my main goal, so I could be talked out of this requirement.

To start with, I was really focused on the Rossignol BC 65, 70, or 90. I've seen some decent deals on those skis. But on this forum, I've seen many comments about lack of grip from the Rossi waxless pattern, so that has turned me off a little.

Recently, I've become focused on the Madshus BC 55 MGV+, which I gather is the same as a ski called the Glittertind in previous years. Based on the weight recommendations, I'm thinking 190cm for her, and 190 or 195 for me.

We both have NNN BC boots already that I found some good deals on (I have Alpina Alaska's, she has Fischer Offtrack 3 BC). I'm usually one to hunt for sales and used gear and never pay full retail for anything, but I'm worried I may not get complete setups for both of us before the winter is over at this point. I don't mind paying a little extra to get things in time for this season, but I'd love some advice about whether I'm on the right track. As long as we end up with something usable, I'll be happy. If the activity is a big hit, we may end up with more skis in the future that I can shop for over the off season.

Is the Madshus BC 55 a good idea? Is it too skinny for the deep snow we sometimes get? I feel like anything that is truly wide enough to float on deep snow will be so wide that it compromises the kick and glide that we are most interested in. And at least the Madshus BC 55 comes in longer lengths for a given body weight, which should help with flotation.

Or maybe we would be better off with non-metal-edged touring skis?

OK, I know this is a lot of words. If any of you gearheads make it through this, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by bgregoire » Thu Dec 13, 2018 9:59 pm

SkyLiner wrote: Is the Madshus BC 55 a good idea? Is it too skinny for the deep snow we sometimes get? I feel like anything that is truly wide enough to float on deep snow will be so wide that it compromises the kick and glide that we are most interested in. And at least the Madshus BC 55 comes in longer lengths for a given body weight, which should help with flotation.

Or maybe we would be better off with non-metal-edged touring skis?

OK, I know this is a lot of words. If any of you gearheads make it through this, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
A ski like that (E99 style) is always good to have in a quiver and the star of most nordic backcountry touring trips (not an easy ski to learn teleing on). It is a classic. Keep in mind the Madshus version is known to be quite soft whereas the Rossi equivalent (B68) & Fisher E99 will be stiffer.

I'm assuming snow is a lot wetter where you live, on the west coast. Waxless probably makes more sense then than where I live? I don't recall reading a lot of nordic BC ski recommendations for the West Coast on TTalk.
I live for the Telemark arc....The feeeeeeel.....I ski miles to get to a place where there is guaranteed snow to do the deal....TM

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by Woodserson » Thu Dec 13, 2018 10:44 pm

I don't have a ton of time for a long response, but I lived and skied in Seattle for two years. One thing is to maybe hit XC areas as boring as that might sound and look for opportunities in hilly terrain between trails. I did this and was satisfied. This was the beginning of my nordic journey that has now taken over much of my waking life.

I did not get up to the Northern Cascades but I hear nothing but good things... and it's pretty quiet. The Methow Valley is a good place to start. Locally along the I-90 corridor there are plenty of smaller groomed XC ski areas run by the state of WA (the Sno-Parks) and they are in different terrains and some connect with logging roads that provide fun XCD. Some are flat, some are hilly, they all have nice different personalities. Watch for avalanche terrain, it's possible to get lured into a run-out zone outside of the ski area (like along the John Wayne Rail Trail), just keep this in mind if it's cloudy and you can't see the mountains and you don't know what is above.

The Olympics too have some great opportunities for backcountry nordic cruising and mild XCD. Things get wild and wooly out there, but gorgeous and super-duper quiet. Hurricane Ridge Ski Area probably would be a nice place to get your legs under you! (just my hypothesis, not based in real world experience).

Finally, the snowpack sets up really really nice come late spring into summer. The beautiful bowl around Snow Lake is easily accessible by foot out of the Alpental valley, and holds snow late. I was blown away. In a good year Snow Lake is still frozen until early July. Early mornings should provide great corn snow if you time the cycle right.

I would definitely recommend the E99 type ski since it will fit in a track-just barely- and offer great support in weird wonky snow of which there is plenty. I would definitely say to start with "waxless" because the temperatures and humidity can be all over the place, you can go from spring-time corn to frozen snowmobile track in the shade, to days old powder in another shade spot and then back to corn. A fatter and shorter more stable compact-geometry ski would be also suitable once you get figured out start yo-yoing up and down. It'll be easier to swing around in the mank and deep corn if you are out skiing too late in the day.

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by SkyLiner » Fri Dec 14, 2018 1:30 am

Thanks for the comment Woodserson! Good to hear from someone who did some skiing in the area.

I stopped at REI on the way home today to see the Madshus 55's in person, and see how it felt flexing the different lengths.

While there, I realized that price-wise, the Fischer Outback 68 is competitive with the Madshus 55 once bindings and mounting is taken into account. I had somehow classified the Fischer skis as nice, but on the pricey side. Now the Outback 68 has jumped up in my rankings. Same nose width, so should just barely fit in a track. A little shorter, so less float, but better turning if that is a factor down the road. The skin attachment could be fun if I get into some steeper stuff.

I had an REI employee who seemed to have some experience XC skiing in the area. It can be hit or miss with employee knowledge there, but I had a good conversation with this guy, and it sounds like there are some good areas to use these skis, but avi gear may become necessary. That becomes a harder sell with the girlfriend...

Thanks for the comments, and for tolerating me thinking out loud here. I may have come to the wrong place since I'm not really talking about telemark, but most of the good info I've found about this kind of XC gear has been on the back pages of these forums.

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by Woodserson » Fri Dec 14, 2018 9:01 am

This is the like, the best place, you could have come to talk about this IMO.

I owned a pair of Outback 68's for one day. I weight 155lbs and was on the 189cm and they were slow as shit, but you are lighter so that could negate this. You may be better off on the longer ski if you are wanting to stay in the tracks, again like the E99, in a 190/195cm (shorter for turns longer for speed). My wife is 125lbs and she is on 185cm E99s, 169cm Fischer Outback/Traverse/Excursion (she's only one the EX but same weight limits), 190cm classic track skis.

The ski selection business is a rabbit hole. You may go down it.... and never come back...

As for the REI guy... everyone loves to be "core." ("yeah, I need these 118mm underfoot skis because I only stomp giant 50 footers in the BC 100% of the time and I only XC when there's moderate avy danger, Imma hero") The great thing about this is that it does not take a big hill in avy terrain to have fun... a shallow slope over a few hundred feet connecting two fire roads or two XC trails is exhilarating on this type of gear.

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by satsuma » Fri Dec 14, 2018 11:21 am

I don't live in the Seattle area, but about 250 miles, but I have skiied there when my daughter went to UW and still ski there occasionally. I don't want to comment on the skis, other than the weather in the Cascades is so changeable that I would suggest waxless skis. You will find yourself frequently skiing in rain or wet snow; be sure to have wet weather gear available when skiing, at least in the Snoqualmie pass area. Ice is also common; you may know how to deal with this from your experience in the Northeast ;)

Another well-known area of non-track skiing is the Mt. Tahoma trails on the west side of Mt. Rainier.

You could get information and contacts from the Mountaineers (an organization in the Northwest ), you might consider joining. They also have things like avalanche courses and shelters/lodging similar to the Sierra Club and Appalachian Trail Club.

Finally, I participate occasionally in https://skiforlightpugetsound.org/. For you, it might be a good way to meet other xc skiers, I live too far away to get this benefit. FI'll leave it up to you whether you want to look into this. You can contact me if you want my personal take on this.

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Re: BCXC in the Seattle area

Post by Coolwhip » Fri Dec 14, 2018 11:25 am

SkyLiner wrote:Their organized trips seem to be either groomed XC, or full on AT with skins (as far as I could tell).
They describe some of their tours like this: "Nordic ski trips: Trips of this type occur on snow covered roads, hiking trails and ski trails that are not groomed for skiing. The routes involved do not cross avalanche release or run out zones." For $20 a member I'd give them a try - maybe find some local beta - unlock the "places to ski" section of their website at least. I'd also check with them to see if they have a "learn to ski" course - something where you could polish up your classic technique and spend a little time on a trail before heading for the wilderness on your own.

Regarding gear, I think the smart thing to do would be to rent the first couple of times. It's probably an option at the REI you visited (maybe they have a course too). I know it's Christmas and everyone is buying stuff, but renting instead would give you a better idea of how you and your girlfriend feel about this kind of outdoor fun before investing in a particular ski package. Who knows, maybe some skinny track skis are a better fit, or maybe an avy course is in your future despite your current misgivings - see how it plays out.

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