alpine backcountry skis

7:23 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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I am looking to be a newbie backcountry skier.  Tried it for the first time - and hooked!

Any advice on how to buy my gear?  What important differences from resort downhill?  My skis are old... what new technology should I know about?  How do I break into buying gear without breaking my bank?

I figure I can rent gear a couple more times, but might just make the leap if I get enough info from you :)

 Forgot to mention:  what advantage/dis to telemark, or other kinds of boots.

I did NOT like the full ski boot.  Don't want to carry hiking boots and ski boots, etc.... Any thoughts on Nordic skis?  Have they advanced to more of a hybrid usage or do I need a true alpine ski?

8:24 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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What kind of skiing are you interested in francesca? Downhill running in some facility with lifts, or crosscountry skiing on flat land (mostly)?

9:36 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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Backcountry, Nordic, telemark, alpine touring and alpine downhill are all very different kinds of gear and skiing. Otto is in Norway, so pay attention to his advice, he skis a lot (I've seen the pictures).

What kind of skiing have you done so far? In my picture, I am wearing a pair of Atomic backcountry skis, Voile 3 pin cable bindings and Garmin Excursion lightweight plastic boots. This set up worked fine in Yosemite on packed snow for a beginner skier like myself. The skis were a little narrow for new snow, but otherwise a nice setup. I didn't use them all that much, but liked them.

10:57 p.m. on January 17, 2013 (EST)
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I echo Otto’s response, in that your intended use will determine appropriate feedback.  In addition to lift serviced resorts and flat cross country, I would add steep backcountry as another category.  And that covers terrain categories.  Within the backcountry category you have further break outs: are you skiing principally powder and light snow, heavy wetter snow, late season corn snow, etc?  Do you want a ski better suited for hauling a pack or dragging a pug (sled), or a performance ski for the control and down hill fun?  Lastly the term backcountry alpine is nebulous; two primary categories of backcountry skiing are skis equipped with bindings that do not lock the heel down (free heel) and skis with bindings that do (fixed heel). 

Free heel skis are often called cross country, Nordic, or telemark skis.  These terms are somewhat vague, especially since all free heel skis are considered cross country skis.  But in the context of your question, let’s agree to call cross county and Nordic skis the ones that are best suited for gliding along on flat land, such as meadows, while the telemark skis are designed to permit more control while going downhill, thus better suited for hilly and even steep terrain.  Your remarks make be assume you are considering telemark skis.  Of these there are two subcategories based on the binding system: Three pin bindings where the boot is attached to the ski by a pincher clamp that grabs the toe of the boot, and cable bindings, where the toe fits into a pocket on the binding and held there by a cable that runs from one side of the pocket around the back of the boot and back to the other side of the pocket, keeping the toe from pulling out of the pocket.  The three pin binding is lighter, while the cable binding is considered to offer better control of the ski.

While some folks use alpine skis and bindings to ski in the back country, most folks using fixed heel skis are using randonee skis.  Randonee skis may consist of a standard alpine ski or a lighter telemark ski.  It is the binding that signifies a randonee ski.  This binding is a lighter version of the standard alpine binding, and features the ability to lock the heel down for control on down hill runs, but permits unlocking the heel for more efficient shuffling along on the flats and more comfort while ascending inclines.  Randonee skis offer more control on downhill runs than telemark skis, but are heavier, especially since they use alpine style ski boots. 

Personally I prefer the three pin, free heel, telemark ski.  It is the lightest of these technologies, thus less fatiguing.  I prefer lightweight boots and skis over the heavier telemark equipment which is designed primarily for lift serviced slopes.  I can ski practically anything I want with this ski, including some double diamond runs.  But admittedly I am technically a pretty good skier.  If you have so so technical skills you may be more comfortable on randonee skis.

While telemark boots are easier to get around in, I don’t find any of the current alpine or telemark ski boots particularly comfortable for walking distances.  I happen to own an old pair of low-rise Scarpa double boots designed for ski touring, however, that are by far the most comfortable boot – more so than even hiking boots - I have ever worn.  Alas if I did not have my low-rise Scarpas, I would bring some light weight hiking boots along if the trip entailed a long approach on foot to the snow, or significant walking elsewhere along the journey.

I do not know how to answer your comment about your old equipment.  How old do you mean (I date from the age of leather alpine boots)?  The cheapest way to acquire gear is buying used demos or second hand.  Ski resort towns can have smoking deals on such equipment in the thrift shops, or ski shops dumping last year’s inventory.  You can also try various ski oriented web sites EBay, etc.

The best way to select gear is to rent first.  Since back country ski gear can cost big bucks I think it is worth while to dedicate a vacation for this purpose, and travel to a ski resort, such as Park City where a good variety such equipment is sold and rented, and capable instruction is available for hire (if you want lessons).  The draw back to this approach is you are evaluating the equipment on snow conditions of that locale, which in my case seldom resembles the Sierras and local mountains of So Cal, where I do most of my skiing.  I personally would steer clear of “waxless” skis.  These skis have a textured bottom designed to grip the snow.  I find it is not a very effective system, makes a weird buzzing noise when gliding along the snow, and the ski seems to not perform downhill as well as smooth bottomed skis.  Instead I prefer to use climbing skins for up hill traction.  Skins are quieter, afford way more traction, and they are cheaper to replace when worn out than new skis.  Regardless how you go about your purchasing activities, I would first read several books on gear and technique before spending additional energy and effort on this endeavor.

Lastly you ask about the benefits of one type of ski over another.  I have already mentioned the weight and performance advantages of each type of equipment.  Others will cite alpine style skiing as easier to learn that telemark skiing.  I think that explanation is overly simplistic.  For example, a rank beginner with two left feet can have a great time shuffling along the flats on cross country skis with next to no instruction or practice, while it would take most people a lesson and the better part of a day before they could alpine ski a beginner’s level run without falling several times on the way down.  Alpine skis, however, are more forgiving to poor technique, so low intermediate levels of capability are easier to achieve on alpine skis.  But to ski safely in hilly back country terrain you will require more than low intermediate skills.  At that point I think it is a wash; progressing beyond low intermediate skills on alpine skis is about as easy/difficult as becoming a more skilled telemark skier.  That said, expert level telemark skills are more difficult to master than expert alpine skills, as advanced telemark skills include all the turning techniques of advance alpine skiing, plus some techniques only possible on telemark skis.  But few people reach this level of skill on either type of ski, so that is a moot issue for the most part.

PS: nice avatar!

Ed

1:43 a.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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Francesca, the type of back country gear you want is determinbed by exactly what type of terrain and skiing you intend to do. Since you say "back country" that means to me, no lifts, and few if any, flat xc ski tracks. Since I started back country skiing, the skis have changed a lot. My first pair was Head 360s with Silvretta bindings for my mountain boots. I still have my old Trysilnute wooden skis. The main difference between those skis and the newer ones, is that they have become much more terrain specific. Few companies make good al around skis anymore, except for Asness and a couple of others. Many telemark skis are intended for downhill lift areas. The boots are more like downhill boots, and though they are free heel, they aren't suitable for xc. Randonee or alpine touring skis are fix heel skiing on the way down and a pivoted toe on the way up. These are intended more for steep alpine runs in the back country, and not touring. Back country free heel skis are lighter and employ a more flexible bind for the flats. Skins are usually necessary with these. Finally, there are what used to be called general touring skis. These are skis with about a 68 mm waist that allow skiing in track, but also allow off piste work. The boots are more flexible and the skis are usually waxless. They don't have the floatation of the bc skis, but they are narrow enough to ski in tracks. Most of the true bc skis, use a cable binding, not like the ones in the 70s, but a newer version. Some lighter bindings are NNN or new NNN which use a bar. Personally, I still use Voile or Rottefella three pin telemark bindings. My current boots are Karhu.

Bindings and boots and skis should be selected to go together. My karhus would be useless on narrow track skis and the telemark three pins would be overkill. Light boots are fun, but if they aren't stiff enough, even with good bindings, you won't have any edge control.

Skis today have much more side cut than they used to have. This is good for turning, but also inhibits use in tracks when you find them. All the bc and touring skis you look at will have metal edges.

So, after that primer, what type of terrain will you be skiing? What type of snow? Afternoon or multi day?

12:24 p.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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I just reread that you asked about boot advantages. The stiffer the boot, the more edge control you have. However, the stiffer the boot, the less flexible it will be for slogging up a road. And continuing with what I mentioned earlier, you want to match your boots skis and bindings. My old wooden skis had cable bindings that were stiff enough, but the boots were low and flexible, so even though the cable bindings wouldn't have been bad for edge control, the boots just didn't have the stiffness.

I would also add, with Ed's comment above, the differences in various grip systems. Any non waxless base can be waxed for adhesion. Randonee skiers commonly use "skins". They may also use other types of grip systems employing metal plates and teeth. Nearly all bc skiers will at least have skins, either full or partial, telemark, or randonee. Ed is correct in that all bases have their advantages and disadvantages. Waxless bases are noisy and do not have the grip and glide that a good wax job has. However, in warmer conditions, where klister wax is used, or conditions are changing, waxless is the way to go, IMHO. What you lose in kick and glide, you gain in not stopping to change waxes. When the terrain become steeper, skins come out. They provide climbing ability that no other gear can. They don't glide well, so they are put on for the steeper stuff. Some folks leave them on except for the down hill stretches. Skins can ice up in changing conditions, though they work well in cold powder situations. On ice, they can wear rapidly. Most skins are glue on these days, though Asnes has a system in which the skin slides into a slot and has adhesive, which I found keeps the skin in place well.

10:13 p.m. on January 18, 2013 (EST)
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Okay. Otto, whomeworry,Erich, Tom! 1. Wow, and thank you guys for all that detailed info. You have given me lots to look into. 2. I think from what I read, I want steep bc equipt. Mostly sierras, rarely lifts on groomed resort...hopefully more places too. Hopefully there is adequate multi terrain gear(?) as it will not always be dry powder. Travelling w/ pack mostly, multi day ( therefore all day) Randonee is a new term to me. Yes, I understand that I will new to match ski/binding/boot. Probably use skins. Wax less noise is not an option. 3. Skill level; intermediate old person. will never be expert in any endeavor (self honesty). So, i dont need ultra cool /hot gear that you younger mavericks might want, but need good gear. My downhill skis are k2 from 70's (love old wood skis, boats etc... But the old heavy skis are not collectible or usable bc). I have trek XC skis and boots from 80's which I have enjoyed mostly in the East. 4. Don't understand reference to "in track" skiing- but not what I will be doing. 5.lighter ski and bindings good. Toe pivot uphill good, still needing the alpine boot- not good. Someone has to be fixing this. I can carry lighter hikers, for sure, while I do the rental gear. Going to Utah or Colorado for dedicated vacation..... Seems like a damn good idea. Again, thanks for the great responses.

1:40 a.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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Sierra backpacking on skis.  OK now there is a specific spec.

I have logged well over a thousand miles skiing the Sierras.  I have glided several hundred miles along the closed access roads of Sequoia, Giant Forest, and Kings Canyon with a pack, finding light touring gear made for kick and glide skiing most enjoyable.  These are great introductions to BC skiing; you get all the solitude and scenery, yet it is accessible to those with mediocre skills.  If you aren’t yet hooked, these trips will change that.  There are a few East Side destinations offering similar, relatively easy introductory excursions; Tom’s Place, June Loop and Mammoth all offer XC ski options suitable for beginners.  Later season options include Cottonwood Lake vicinity, the road leading out of Lee Vining up to the East Entrance of Yosemite NP, and further north in the Bridgeport area.  You will want to learn about waxing for these venues.  Personally I don’t care for waxless bases for the reasons Erich and I already mentioned.

I have also skied more challenging terrain including tracing along and over most of the major ridge crests of the Sierra.  I have skied most of the route along the John Muir Trail, several East/West traverses, and lots of mixed mountaineering trips of lesser distance and durations.  Folks on these trips used both hard core BC telemark touring set ups and randonee rigs, with preferences tending toward the randonee equipment as the terrain challenge mounted.  I always went with my free heel boards and still out skied most of the rondonee folks, however, so your limits ultimately will be determined not so such by gear, provided it is matched to the terrain, but by your lungs, leg strength, skill, and will (probably in that order too!).  On these trips we used skins exclusively for traction on the flats and inclines, as they are quick to apply, fool proof and will get you up any incline you would be willing to ascend.  Wax and waxless bases are not nearly as effective in that regard.  We frequently also kept the skins on during downhills descents while carrying our packs to check our speed as a safety measure.  It only takes a 40+ pound pack tackling your from behind and driving you face first into the snow a couple of times to learn the wisdom behind this choice.  On these trips the skis were mostly a mode of transportation rather than a recreational preoccupation in their own right.  But we still got our yuks on zero days doing runs near camp.

If you venture off into the wilds, you will need to learn more than just how to ski.  Sierra wilderness skiing requires skills involving safe route selection, reading the snow pack for avalanche risk, winter survival skills.  If you do anything beyond valley bottom skiiing you must also learn how to use an ice axe and crampons; the snow often changes throughout the day and can become dangerous to ski – the axe and crampons get you down safely.  Thus plan to take a few winter skills courses before you get too far along.  It would be a plus to also learn some meteorological skills too, as being one step ahead of the weather will often prevent unwanted challenges or trouble.  And don’t be complacent about your safety either.  If you surf the internet for BC ski enthusiast web sites, you will discover postings by “expert” BC skiers who still get themselves into trouble.  A surprising number of folks get caught in slides yet beat the odds, or trapped by weather that could have been avoided altogether.  Best save your luck for the crap tables in Vegas.  

Lastly as you become proficient, you will find the rangers are not the best source of information for back country condition during the winter and early spring.  There are several web sites hosted by individuals and organizations that do a much better job at this.  And if your weather analysis skills evolve, you too can frequently more accurately forecast local conditions, relying on NOAA satellite images, ground station data streams and historical records.  Even if you don’t want to take on this task, it still behooves you to at least understand the mountain weather forecasting basics as described in the Seattle Mountaineer’s Bible: Freedom of the Hills.

There are several good books about Sierra XC touring.  I’d love to reference some, but at this moment my collection is out on loan to various folks.

Lastly there are several opinions on the best way to learn technique.  One school of thought is the “earn your turns” method, where lift serviced skiing is looked down on.  Folks in this camp believe the best learning experience is climbing every hill you ski down.  Personally I never understood this doctrine – the only reason I can see supporting this philosophy is the conditioning you get pushing yourself uphill.  I think you progress more quickly, however, by experiencing more vertical miles, facilitated by lift serviced skiing.  You might get 2500’ vertical feet under your belt in a day’s worth of shuffling uphill in the BC, but you can ski twice to ten times that in a day on lift service slopes.     

Ed

2:17 a.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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Oh let me add a note on snow conditions. 

Most folks fantasize about how lovely the backcountry is.  And it is beautiful in snow.  But the snow itself is mostly less than ideal for skiing.  For starters you’ll only occasionally see powder in the Sierras.  And when it is cold enough to deposit powder, it is also cold enough to prevent the snow from stabilizing, so powder in the Sierra back country equates as too dangerous to travel through.  For this reason early season travel (November – mid February are considered hazardous, and for the most part avoided by the wise.  The most common mid season condition is Sierra Cement.  It is a dense snow containing a lot of moisture.  You skis will sink into it but not very deep like powder.  Beginners will find this stuff hard to turn in.  As the snow ages it changes.  Freeze/thaw cycles will create a surface crust that may come and go with the sun.  Wind can also create a surface crust known as boiler plate.  When the sun sets the whole pack will freeze solid.  Higher up the snow often remains frozen solid the entire day.  These conditions can be very challenging to ski.  As the season turns to spring is when the best BC ski conditions prevail.  The sun warms the surface, creating what is known as corn snow.  BC skiers love corn snow!  It is easy to ski, and the climate warm to downright sultry with all the reflected solar energy.  Alas late in the day even corn snow refreezes to a hard crust.  Spring can also bring sun cups.  Beware the sun cups!  This is a dangerous snow condition to ski.  Imagine a slope textured like a giant golf ball covered with dimples three to fourteen inches in diameter, each several inches deep.  The problem with sun cups is controlling you skis requires contact with the snow.  Since you skis contact only the ridges of the sun cups, you have very little contact with the snow, hence very little control.  Don’t even attempt to ski sun cups; if you must travel across such snow, put on your crampons and hoof it.  Other than sun cups I have not attempted to describe the various dangerous snow conditions, but they often lurk.  A snow safety course will elucidate you to these hazzards.  It is imperative any group heading off into the back country snow have at least one person fully versed in snow pack analysis. 

Lastly everyone should carry a snow shovel, avi transcever beckon and probe poles.  They may mean the difference between life and death, should one get buried in a slide, but usually attempts recuseing a burried victim end as body recoveries.  Thus  learn how to minimize risk and ski wisely.     

Ed

2:56 p.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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A caveat here. I prefer telemark skiing over randonee(also known as AT or alpine touring). I like the freedom and lighter gear that telemark allows. That said, I'm not doing big steep descents. Telemark works great in powder, but is more difficult in the Cascade Concrete that I learned to ski downhill on. It can be done, with strong legs and knees, or with the the heavier gear(think downhill boots with a free heel). If you are going out for multi day, depending on your group, you may want to invest in a pulk, over a pack. We often slog our way to a hut or a base camp, establish camp, and then do day trips from there, returning to base each night. If you are going to for steep, ski crampons may be very useful. And, unless your knees are strong, you may want to consider randonee. Telemark can be hard on the knees. Haha, not a young maverick anymore, but have been doing telemark since the early 80's and can't seem to go back, despite several attempts. Many of the better skis still have wood cores, though all wood skis are quite rare. The wood cores are much lighter for the price than anything else. My cheap Alpinas, and expensive Asnes, both favor wood cores. Many of the top bc skiers are now advocating for wood, as it performs better than an all composite. It can be strong, but always carry an extra tip, no matter what material the ski is.

Try before you buy. Waxless is nosier, but don't expect it to sound like a chain saw. Except in icy conditions, you may not hear it at all. My metal edges make more noise.

Track is xc ski track/trail. In the Methow Valley of eastern Washington where I ski alot(over 200k of ski trails) we often have groomed trails up a road to start our trip. As well, you may be following in someone else's tracks, so having a ski that works there is good. Wider is more stable and more floatation, but for the heavy wet snow of the Sierra and the western Cascades, floatation is usually not the issue. I find that a ski with good side cut and a maximum width of 68-72, works well for me. But then I learned to telemark on track skis with almost no side cut and only lignostone edges.

And the key to all this, as Ed says, is safety. The idea of telemarking down a wide open slope is great, but the conditions rarely allow that. And even the very best make mistakes. We had a number of bc and general ski deaths in Washington last year, including the Tunnel Creek disaster. As Ed says, beacons are great, but many don't recognize it just makes it easier to find the body.

6:26 p.m. on January 19, 2013 (EST)
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Thanks Whomeworry and Erich.  Yes, I have much to learn of safety.  I have respect for nature.  Much reading and short trips in my future.  My first snow camping/cold weather backpacking experience was early this month.  So much fun!!! The beauty of untrodden powder! The peaceful mountains are bliss! I had stopped skiing lifts because of the crowds, noise and attitudes.  Just not fun anymore.  But, I do recognize the need to log downhill time for fitness and skill upkeep. My knees are not bad - but I'm not into muscling through them. 

It's a shame I waited so long to discover bc. Got to do it, find groups to go with to learn.  My daughter was fretting - begging me to get a beacon (even for the short trip)... I retorted: why? so you can find my body? 

Also, met some great people on the way; particularly an austrian couple.  The guy was expert mountaineer.  He had lots of good info - safety tips. 

I won't be careless.  I will research and learn.  You have been kind in your sharing of experience.  What a great forum.

Now - to carve out time & try to talk my 19 year old into joining me...(not likely).

One last question?  In the Tahoe area, which business would you recommend for rentals?  There are SO many..... 

 

8:34 p.m. on January 20, 2013 (EST)
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Go to Paco in Truckee. This is a very complete backcountry and track ski shop. Then go a bit further along the same road to Bela Vadasz's shop and signup for lessons in whatever style of bc skiing you are interested in. Bela is one of the super-gurus of bc skiing. And for your daughter's peace of mind, take an avy 1 class from Bela as well.

1:39 a.m. on January 21, 2013 (EST)
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will do.

Thanks.

1:02 a.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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francescal said:

 

Okay. Otto, whomeworry,Erich, Tom!  1I want steep bc equipt.

...2 ultra cool /hot gear that you younger mavericks might want,

to 1: not my line of skiing, but you have got answers to help you on.

to 2: Thank you soo much. I am going to get my pension this spring, and it is some time since someone called me a young maverick with ultra cool/hot skiing gear (lol). But I accept any praise, no matter how unfounded it might be. I guess it goes for the rest of the persons contributing above.

 

1:38 a.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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Not me either. Head over to www.telemarktips.com and start asking there. They tolerate bc skiers and newbies, and think AT is the devil's handiwork for the most part, but they collectively know pretty much anything about skis, tele bindings and boots. I learned pretty much everything I know about skis from this site with a tolerable amount of grief from the regulars for asking a dumb question every now and then.

Scroll down the left side to the Forums, Telemark Talk is the main forum, Tele Turnaround is the used gear forum, a good place to find tele gear and boots.

5:51 a.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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francescal said:

Okay. Otto, whomeworry,Erich, Tom! 1. Wow, and thank you guys for all that detailed info. You have given me lots to look into. 2. I think from what I read, I want steep bc equipt. Mostly sierras, rarely lifts on groomed resort...hopefully more places too. Hopefully there is adequate multi terrain gear(?) as it will not always be dry powder. Travelling w/ pack mostly, multi day ( therefore all day) Randonee is a new term to me. Yes, I understand that I will new to match ski/binding/boot. Probably use skins. Wax less noise is not an option. 3. Skill level; intermediate old person. will never be expert in any endeavor (self honesty). So, i dont need ultra cool /hot gear that you younger mavericks might want, but need good gear. My downhill skis are k2 from 70's (love old wood skis, boats etc... But the old heavy skis are not collectible or usable bc). I have trek XC skis and boots from 80's which I have enjoyed mostly in the East. 4. Don't understand reference to "in track" skiing- but not what I will be doing. 5.lighter ski and bindings good. Toe pivot uphill good, still needing the alpine boot- not good. Someone has to be fixing this. I can carry lighter hikers, for sure, while I do the rental gear. Going to Utah or Colorado for dedicated vacation..... Seems like a damn good idea. Again, thanks for the great responses.

 I have stayed out of this thread so far because you have gotten so much good advice from others. But since BC skiing is my favorite thing, maybe I should weigh in.

Based on what you have written above I think you still have to make a decision about where on the "tourablility" vs. "turnability" spectrum you want to start. (I say start because if you really get into this you may end accumulating different gear for different purposes). This is a game I have been playing for a long time, both in my old stomping grounds in Vermont and my current playground in Norway.

I propose that you rule out some of the more old-fashioned, narrow (<90 mm at the tip, say), steel-edged cross-country skis, although I will say that they are still popular in certain circles both in the US and here in Norway. These score pretty low on the turnability scale and you may find yourself somewhere between dissatisfied and frustrated with them, especially if you practice by riding lifts.

At the top end of the scale is a whole world of heavy telemark and randonee skis and boots. Because they are so fun on the downhill, these may be the best choice for day trips involving only one or a few big ups and downs, but are not so good for long slogs and multiday trips -- so if that's what you want to do maybe you can rule those out as well (at least for the time being). Be aware that the personnel at many ski shops would love to sell you a full-on package (don't forget you will need skins and backcountry poles) of this type because you can run up quite a tab, so you might get a little pressure. I have both heavy telemark and Randonee rigs for steep day trips in the Norwegian mountains, and you might go more this way if you're thinking more about day trips and riding lifts at least to get started.

Where's the compromise? This is the line I have been trying to walk for the last 20+ years. Unfortunately the ski industry doesn't seem to be much interested in meeting that need, so there is a comparatively limited selection of skis with intermediate characteristics, and most of what there is seems to be waxless. You might take a look at the backcountry ski line-ups offered by Fischer and Madshus, both of which come in a rainbow of widths and sidecuts. If you hunt around the web, you might even be able to track down some waxable versions, such as the old Fischer Outtabounds (I have a pair of these) or the Karhu 10th Mountain (now apparently resurrected as the Madshus Epoch). I used and still have waxless Fischer Rebounds as a springtime hut-to-hut ski, but don't like them so much on dry snow because they are rather slow on the glide. These are skis that you still have to actively turn rather than just ride, but I guess if you'r still on your old K2s you know how to do that.

Boot/binding system: I think Ed and others have steered you towards 75 mm leather or light plastic boots and either 3 pin or some kind of cable binding. They may in fact be the right choice for you, but I have long had a pretty low opinion of the whole 75 mm system as hopelessly retro-engineered from what was originally, believe it or not, an xc racing system. Instead I have been using Rottefella's NNN-BC system since it first came out 20 years ago. It takes the best characteristic of a modern xc binding, free rotation around a bar embedded in the boot toe, and beefs it up to give a boot-binding that tours way better than 75 mm and can handle the downhill at least as well as old leather 75s. I wish they would take it all a step further by increasing the torsional rigidity of the boot sole, but it still works for me on terrain that is not way steep and in more or less friendly snow conditions. I would recommend only the higher end boots made for this system, such as those made by Fischer, Rossignol, Crispi, and Alpina, and the Magnum version of the binding. Check it out before you make your final call. (Caveat: I have broken the toe bar on several boots, but this was partly due to snow build up on older versions of the binding, and I think I can say I push my gear pretty hard.)

Good luck with all these choices, and welcome to a world of fun!

4:44 p.m. on January 22, 2013 (EST)
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As Big Red says, there is the NNN which I mentioned earlier in the BC version. I have seen bars pull out, not mine, but people I've met on the trail. Pins pull out as well, whereas the cable combination seems the most rugged. Remember, a broken binding or boot can be a catastrophic failure. More than bindings, look at the boots and assess whether they are comfortable. That is the most important. I would have no problem skiing on the NNN BC, but my Karhu three pins are so comfortable and the soles are rigid enough for good control.

4:16 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Sheesh. Well additional thank for chiming in big red. In my recent looking I have found I need to start with what is rentable.. Since I have never telemark skied, I've decided to do that next. There are a few spots renting N. Tahoe. Therefore, I'm moving to the telemark forum as suggested. Muchas gracias. Perhaps I will make it to Norway one day! Here's hoping.

6:45 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Check out the "What's in my pack" thread on TTips. It is a good example of good information mixed in with snarky attacks that is typical of TTips. But the thread is good for showing what people carry in the backcountry-a lot more than you'd think for just for a day of skiing.

6:48 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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Check out the "What's in your pack?" thread on TTips. It is a good example of good information mixed in with the snarky attacks that are typical of TTips. But, if you can wade through the BS, you'll see what these people carry in the backcountry-a lot more than you'd think for just for a day of skiing.

http://telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=86473&sid=3b9f48f0fa8bd867eb36c5712dc34780

11:16 p.m. on January 23, 2013 (EST)
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I will reiterate my suggestion of going to Bela Vadasz' shop in Truckee. They specialize in what you state is your interest and goal, and are right there in the conditions you will be starting in. A face to face discussion will clarify the situation far far better yhan any website discussion can. These folks are the real deal and excellent teachers who will tailor the discussion to you personally with no nonsense.

2:22 p.m. on January 27, 2013 (EST)
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Wow, have things changed. I did my cross-country skiing in the 70s and early 80s. There were some choices, but not many.

There was xcountry and downhill. For xcountry, most folks I knew had the 3-in bindings. Cable bindings could be had for xcountry, but were not so common.

Waxless skis were just coming in, and were clearly not as well-matured a technology as waxed skis. A friend of mine had a pair, with an orange plastic fish-scale pattern on the bottom; I could cruise past him on the uphills, and he made the oddest daggone noise on the down slopes.

Telemark was popular in Scandinavia but I only knew one American who used the technique.

Never heard of climbing skins.

You had different colors of wax for different snow conditions, mostly based on temperature. Red, for instance, was thick and gummy, for wet snow. Blue was harder, for drier snow. Green was harder still. If you were slipping some while going uphill, you might add just a bit of the next-softer wax right under your feet. You had these big corks that you used to smooth out the wax after applying it to the bottom of the skies. That was kind of fun, really, to watch the wax spread out evenly.

I'm moving back to Michigan in a few years, and have been looking forward to getting back into xcountry skiing. Now you guys have got me worried. All those choices! Maybe I can find a set of old skis and waxes on Ebay. LOL.

4:01 p.m. on January 27, 2013 (EST)
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An interesting discussion.  I am a retired telemark skier.  Starting in the 1970s we skied in the Cascades with wood skis, klister and 10 kinds of wax.  It was challenging but really fast with the right wax.  By 1980 I was in the Rockies with special green wax all year and metal edges and leather boots with free heels and release bindings.  We skied all the big hills in CO with that equipment in search of untracked powder available from ski lifts.  We used skins for long ascents.

I use the fish scale waxless skis now in the Sierra with all of the changeable conditions but don't ride lifts anymore due to a lot of metal in the right leg and hip.  Overnight trips with a sled have been a lot of fun.

The modern plastic mounteering, alpine, and telemark boots seem dangerous to me and I have never been interested in them.  Lots of people ruin their knees with those type of boots.  Leather boots are much more forgiving on the body.  I don't really like cable bindings either.  An injury in the backcountry is a lot worse.  There is no ski patrol.  I have ridden down the hill in a tobaggan and eventually got tired of injuries.

I still like the lightest equipment that will do the job.

 

 

12:28 p.m. on January 28, 2013 (EST)
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Arnold and ppine, all those waxes still exist, including the klisters. The difference is that the ski bases are now a synthetic, so no need to put pine tar on wood bases. I miss torching the pine tar in and having the whole house smell of pine tar. There is an ongoing argument about cores. While wood cores are arguably more prone to breakage, there is a thought that they provide better control. Hence the reason that many top skis have wood cores. They are also lighter. There is a subgroup of skiers who are also getting back into making wood skis. These are usually one piece, rather than the laminated that I have. There are also some top manufacturers who still make wooden skis because the offer superior control and feel. Bindings, of course, changed. When I started, cable bindings were the norm for touring. Then those completely disappeared and I changed to three pin in the 80's. 20 years ago, cable bindings came back in as they offer better control.

12:56 p.m. on January 28, 2013 (EST)
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It is always possible to make up for the equipment with good technique.  Some  of the hills in CO are l 3600 feet vertical and you can see the lodge from the top between your ski tips.  We used to ski those runs with the really early metal edged skis like "Trucker".   There was a device added to the back of the heel of the boots that fit in a notch on the ski when the heels were down.  That worked with 3 pins.  The runs were groomed or in powder and really steep requiring self-arrest after a fall.  Most backcountry runs are a lot easier.  Each person has to decide how much edge control they need, versus lightweight and flexible.  Safety was always a big one for me, especially in backcountry a long way from help.

I still have a pair of wood x-c  skis from the 70s made in Norway with "lignostone edges".  I am happy to hear that wood refuses to go away.  It has a lot of feel and flex.  The smell of pine tar will always be a happy memory.

Like many of the philosophies employed in the outdoors, there is always an advantage in simple lower tech equipment.It is not such a battle to stay current and spend more money.  People don't have to rely on technology to make the equipment work.  Your skills develop faster.  Linked telemark turns are very stable in a form of dynamic tension.

I will never forget the first time I saw someone use x-c telemark equipment.  It was in the 1960s.  A kid moved to the neighborhood after living in Finland.  He could ski down stairs, over retainging walls and straight up steep hills.  I never forgot that guy.  I always wanted to ski as well as he did.

When I was younger, we used to set up two  x-c runs side by side down a long hill.  We would challenge people that came by to race for what was in their packs.  We used to win a lot of wine, chocolate and oranges.  Trying to go fast, is a way to help one's technique.  We used to race back to the truck 5 or 8 miles for a beer. 

 

3:02 p.m. on January 28, 2013 (EST)
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I have been waiting for Big Red to point out that Sondre Norheim developed both the telemark and christy (aka parallel) turning techniques, as well as introducing side cut, back in the 1800s. Telemark was the district in Norway where many ski competitions were being held. Christiana, in Telemark, was the old name for the city of Oslo, giving the shortened name to the "christy". There is some disagreement on whether Norheim was truly first to do these things. But all are agreed that Ullr is the god of skiing.

TELE RULES! Free the heel and you free the soul!!!!

4:01 p.m. on January 28, 2013 (EST)
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There is a wooden ski shop in the US that has a website.

http://www.woodenskis.com/

They have a good list of current wooden ski makers, though they seem to say that Asnes is out of business, which it isn't. Whether just a wooden core or a full on laminated wooden ski, wood performs far better with regard to torsion rigidity and flex than a foam core. The cost of some of these handmade laminated alpine and telemark skis is in the stratosphere, but you get what you pay for.

My first experience with tele was many years ago when I lived in Reno. I had my Trysil Knut wooden skis, with almost no sidecut. I had read about tele and decided to ski this one slope of powder trying to turn. WIth snow up to my knees, I managed two or three turns and was hooked.

Tele does rule, Bill.

5:55 a.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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Wood is good!

I love my Bonna 1800, 215 CM, light touring skis.  Old school, 100% laminated wood from the early 1970s.  The smell of smoking pitch is still part of my winters; when the venue fits I use them, mostly day skiing on gentle terrain.   Kick and glide along the closed off mountain roads is a blast.  Recent snows in the San Gabriel mountains above LA allowed me to scoot along San Dimas Canyon Road, and beyond, enjoying crisp blue bird days between the storms.  This is a superlative ski experience in the mountains, with about the most awesome view of a large city, below, you'll ever see to one side of the road, and the deep San Gabriel Canyon system below on the other side.

But I also love my Tua wilderness telemark skis from the late 1980s, set up with trad 3-pin bindings.  I consider them second generation XC skis: They are wood core but plastic on the outside, with p-tex and steel edged bases.  They can still be considered skinny skis, with a 200 CM length and 65 MM waist, but with a 78-65-70 MM side cut, their profile obviously has evolved from the trad XC ski.  They are light, long, and narrow, compared to today's heavier backcountry tele ski.  Set an edge and these skis WANT to turn, handling similar to an alpine GS ski.  When on lift serviced slopes most people can't tell me apart from other down hill skiers, as I use alpine technique to control these skis on groomed slopes.  In fact parallel and christy turns are often the easiest turns for most any terrain – what can I say, I’m lazy - but they still do a good tele turn when conditions call for it, like really deep powder, crud, or deep wet fresh snow.  These skis are well suited for snow camping: the perfect balance between weight, performance, and stability.  They are my go-to ski for back country in the Sierras.

Ed

11:08 a.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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Great words by Bill, Erich, and Whome.  It is fun to talk with people that understand the freedom of light equipment.

4:49 p.m. on January 29, 2013 (EST)
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My current everyday go to skis are Alpina Discoverys. 68-60-65. They don't have quite the width of Ed's Tuas, which are great skis. I like the narrower width as I can avail myself of groomed tracks and tracks made by ski tourists for the approach. The downside is that they don't have as much floatation in the powder. With the metal edges and good technique, they do turn well. And I find the wood cores give a nice feel. They are two seasons old and getting pretty hammered, so I'll replace them at the end of this season.

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