My backcountry Nordic touring ski setup excels on ungroomed or unbroken trails through rolling terrain. I used this equipment during my Alaska-Yukon Expedition (see the video above), and it’s my preferred setup for ski trips in Colorado.
It does fine on the flats, but cross-country skis are lighter and will track and glide better. It’s even less optimized for groomed tracks, where I get lapped by skate skiers with far less aerobic fitness.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I can get down moderately steep slopes. But don’t expect to see my ugly and slow descents featured soon in an upcoming Teton Gravity Research film. However, I figure the time I lose to an alpine touring system here is offset by being faster everywhere else.
Indeed, backcountry Nordic touring equipment is imperfect, and has both limits and tradeoffs. But it’s perhaps the most versatile ski system out there, performing well in most conditions and scratching by in the others.
In comparison, skate skis can only be used on open, groomed trails, plus the rare days with a bulletproof crust. Cross-country skis sink in deep snow and struggle to turn. And alpine touring skis are miserably heavy, stiff, and slow on flat and rolling terrain. The only other system I would consider involves racing-quality Dynafit boots and Dynafit bindings, although this equipment is optimized for more vertical tours (and it’s really expensive!).
Unfortunately, backcountry Nordic touring seems like a dying niche, and applicable products are increasingly difficult to find. I hope that this gear list provides some ideas and insight.
Skis || Asnes Nansen
My skis are 200 cm long, have some camber, measure 76-56-66 at tip-waist-tail, and feature metal edges and waxable bases.
With these skis, I can track fairly straight, kick-and-glide, make easy turns, break trail, and edge across crusty slopes. Skiers who are willing to give up some maneuverability and floatation for improved glide and tracking should consider the Fischer E99 Crown or similar. Skiers who want some additional sidecut and surface area should consider the Fischer S-Bound 98 or similar.
While there are decent options for backcountry skis of differing lengths and sidecuts, there is a dearth of backcountry touring skis with waxable bases. There are only a few outdoor speciality shops in the country that still carry them — thankfully including my local shop, Neptune Mountaineering — and there are a few more dealers online. Otherwise, waxless bases — the “fixed gear” of ski touring — prevail. More on that later.
Boots || Crispi Antarctic
If my skis sounded “old school,” then my boots definitely are. They are decidedly low-tech: leather uppers, Thinsulate lining, Vibram outsoles, and compatibility with 75 mm 3-pin telemark bindings.
Leather boots are expensive and have a long “breaking in” period. But long-term they are a better investment than boots made with synthetic leather or other materials. To protect the leather and restore waterproofness, at least annually treat the boots with Atsko Sno-Seal. Keeping leather boots dry is critical — once they get wet, a lot of time and heat is required to get them dry. For this reason, even brand new or freshly Tectron-treated boots may be a bad choice in really wet conditions, e.g. soaking wet snow, river fords, and overflow on rivers.
As with the skis, there are other touring boots available with subtle performance differences. The Crispi Mountains are lighter and lower-cut, resulting in more comfort but less power transfer in turns. I used these on my Alaska trip, which had more horizontal terrain than I find in Colorado. Meanwhile, the Fishcer BCX 875 features two ratcheting buckles and a stiff, plastic ankle cuff.
For my purposes, I prefer boots that are compatible with 75 mm 3-pin bindings instead of NNN-BC bindings, which are a burlier version of the “New Nordic Norm” system used on cross-country and skate skis. Two reasons:
First, hiking in 3-pin boots feels natural. They are based on a mountaineering boot design and normally feature a sticky Vibram outsole. Moreover, there is no risk of critical damage to the boot/binding connection when hiking (i.e. no toe rod).
Second, the 3-pin system is more reliable. It is less likely to get jammed with ice. And there is redundancy: if my pins fail, I can rely on my cables to stay attached to my skis; if my cables fail, I can rely on my pins.
Ultimately, however, the boots must fit. Thankfully, I found 3-pin boots that do.
Bindings || Voile 3-Pin Cable Telemark
My boots are only compatible with 3-pin bindings, not NNN-BC bindings. So the only binding decision to make was whether I wanted heel cables, which offer additional turning power.
The Voile cables are easily detachable. I only use them on noteable and/or sustained descents. On flat or rolling terrain, they stay in my pack.
If noteable and/or sustained descents are not part of your backcountry ski experience, consider the Voile 3-Pin HD Mountaineer, which consists of just a toe-piece with no cable option.
Kick waxes || Swix Hardwax V (3x)
Depending on the temperature and texture of the snow, I apply different kick waxes to the “wax pocket” on the base of my skis, which is centered under the binding.
These waxes vary in hardness. For warm, old snowpack — which consists of rounded, soft snow crystals — I apply a soft wax like “Violet.” For cold, new snowpack — which consists of sharp, hard crystals — I apply a hard wax like “Green.” In Colorado at least, for everything inbetween we use Blue Extra.
If I waxed my skis correctly, the wax will grip the snow when I weight the ski, allowing me to kick forward. As I unweight the ski, the wax pocket lifts off the snow and I will glide forward. It’s a sublime feeling. However, ski waxing is an art, and a poor wax choice is quickly obvious. Snow will clump to the ski if a too-soft wax is used. And a too-hard wax will offer no grip.
Waxless skis, which feature “fish scale”-like patterns etched into the bases, are a simpler solution than waxes. However, these skis are typically slower because they do not glide as well.
Climbing skins || Black Diamond Mohair Mix Kicker and GlideLite Mohair Mix STS
There are three scenarios when I will use climbing skins, which offer superior grip but inferior glide versus kick waxes:
1. On moderate or steep climbs that require extra grip;
2. Breaking trail through deep, crust-capped snow, which causes the lead ski to pitch upwards at an angle that exceeds the gripping power of wax; and,
3. In the springtime as a substitute for klister, which is designed for warm and slushy snow and which is as sticky and messy as tree sap. Note: If my skis had waxable bases, I could probably forgo this purpose.
Because my backcountry Nordic touring skis do not excel in steep terrain, I typically avoid it. As such, I rarely need my full-length climbing skins — my kicker skins are adequate for most moderate slopes, especially if I position them more towards the front of the ski.
Poles || Fischer BCX Variolite
All else being equal, fixed-length poles like the Swix Mountain Poles will be lighter, stiffer, and less expensive than a telescoping model. But for inconsistent snow and trail conditions, some adjustability is worth the tradeoff. For example, when touring on an open snowmachine trail I keep my poles at 145 cm. On a narrow skin track lined with deep powder, I will shorten them by about 10 cm. And when I work on my telemark turns at our local ski hill, Eldora, I bring my alpine ski poles, which measure 125 cm.
For Nordic touring, I prefer a cross-country-style handle (top) made out of cork or faux cork, and I keep the straps on. The snow baskets are a must for ungroomed trails. Carbon fiber shafts are lighter and stiffer than aluminum, but add cost.
How do skins stay on the skis?
Two factors at play:
1. The metal plate at the tip of the kicker skin is flush against the ski, so the skin glides over the snow and it is sandwiched between the ski/skier and the snow. The BD skins are secured with a webbing strap and clasp. The plate on the Asnes skins has two male pieces that extend perpendicular to the plate that stick into female slots on the ski. That’s why those Asnes skins are only compatible with Asnes skis — no other skis have those slots. Full-length skins are attached at the tip of the ski, which is curved and sticks out of the snow.
2. The ski-facing side of the skin is treated with glue. Remarkably, the residue stays on the skin, keeping the ski’s glide in tact.
They are called “skins” because the “technology” dates back to when real skins were used.
Nice skis. I’ve been putting together a ski setup for long traverses but I’ve opted for light AT gear.
Race inspired AT gear is lighter and quite a bit more capable on ascents and descents but it is quite a bit more expensive and probably slower on flats. The plastic boots keep the feet warmer and drier, but they aren’t as good for walking in.
My bindings (Plum 235 heels + Dynafit Speed Superlite toes) weigh 11oz with the screws, while my boots (Scarpa Alien) are 65oz. That’s 8oz lighter than the setup listed here, and one can go even lighter. Shawn Forry is winter thru-hiking the PCT right now with 9oz AT bindings and 56oz plastic/carbon boots.
The right choice likely depends on how rugged the intended terrain is.
And therein lies the most important factor in ski selection: How much horizontal versus vertical travel do you intend to do, ? If it’s all horizontal, a cross-country setup with full camber skis and no metal edges, nimble boots, and long poles is the way to go. No kicker skins even necessary. If it’s all vertical, you’re looking at 4-buckle boots and the heaviest Dynafit bindings.
Of course, there’s also a question of, “What do you want to enjoy?” That guy with the 10-lb skis that are 120 cm at the waist might make the aforementioned TGR film, but I could beat him back to town with a lighter AT setup (like yours) because I’d be faster everywhere except the big descent, which I could still get down with a race-worthy AT setup.
Skiing is similar to backpacking in having this key question. With backpacking, it’s: How much camping versus hiking do you intend to do? Campers can pack the proverbial kitchen sink. Hikers must learn to travel light and efficiently.
I didn’t address the price factor, but it’s an important consideration if skiing is not your full-time sport for 4-6 months per year.
For ultralight AT gear, expect $750 for boots, $500 for bindings, $750 for skis, $150 for skins, $100 for poles = $2350. There is (much) more expensive stuff out there, and less expensive too if you shop closeouts or wait for sales.
For Nordic touring, expect $300 for boots, $100 for bindings, $250 for skis, $100 for skins & waxes, $100 for poles = $850. This would get you a very nice setup. You could spend much less by shopping garage sales and second-hand retail shops. That’s how I got Amanda’s boots — $50 for full-grain leather and Vibram soles!
Hi, You seem to know a lot about this stuff I hope you don’t mind me asking your advise. I’d like to do some Nordic touring and camping this winter in yosemeti, unbroken trail. What type of skis do you think would work well for this? We have gear to carry (tent, bags, supplies etc). Would a Nordic setup like the one you outlined be ideal for this or would thin lightweight AT setup with maybe Fischer Hannibal 94 be better?
It primarily depends on your intended ratio of horizontal to vertical terrain, plus your ski skills. Snow conditions are less of a factor — you can get skis for either system that would be appropriate.
Terrain and weather conditions definitely determine the choice of skis. Commercial hunter-trappers tend to own quite a few different pairs. Alexandar Zubov is said to have about 12 pairs of them for skiing efficiently throughout the whole year depending on the condition and weather.
But that’s understandable, why he has so many pairs: time is money and when you have no time, you have no money.
Excellent general overview.
Two quick points:
Tectron is made by the same company that makes Sno Seal and is actually the same exact same product. Sno Seal is sold in hardware stores, surplus stores and hunting/fishing stores. I suspect the Sno Seal people re-branded it Tectron for the REI-type consumer. (Sounds sexier!) You can find the SnoSeal branded product far easier than Tectron….but it is the exact same thing.
Also, You can rehab 3-pint boot holes with something called “Smile Plates”. Used to be made by several different companies…looks to be made by only one now. I find the holes wear out far faster than the uppers and the soles. For about $20, and some elbow grease, these plates work well. In fact, I wish I would have known about them before as they are an excellent preventive measure.
I had to face this dilemma of choosing between a backcountry nordic ski touring setup and an AT setup. At the end I went with a light AT setup based on racing Dynafit bindings and boots and was quite happy with it. This decision was dictated mostly by the terrain where I live. Here in the Alps its its very hard to find rolling terrain, most of such terrain is either occupied by ski resorts or is low lying and rarely receives any snow. Actually, here I never saw people with a backcountry nordic ski touring setup and most local backcountry skiers don’t know what this setup is, but that I guess is also explained by the local terrain and cultural skiing differences in central Europe – except for the popular Haute Route, long traverses are not part of the skiing tradition in the central European backcountry ski community.
When I went on a two week skiing traverse in the northern Norway I decided to stick with my AT setup even though about two thirds of my route went through a rolling terrain. I made this decision mostly because I already had an AT setup and didn’t want to buy a second skiing setup just to do this traverse (I try to keep my gear closet minimal). Probably, a backcountry nordic ski touring setup would have been more appropriate for such a trip, but I was quite happy with my AT setup. My main concern was the fact that I would have to ski in stiff plastic Dynafit boots for two weeks and might get blisters, but it turned out that this concern was not justified – no blisters at all (probably due to good thermofitting of both liners and shells). In contrary, I found that combination of a plastic shell and a removable liner was quite an advantage on such a tour since every night I could remove the liners, put them inside the sleeping bag, and have warm and dry liners the next morning.
I think it also should be mentioned that Dynafit style toe pieces offer no pivot resistance at all and therefore might require less energy expenditure during a long tour.
Clearly the system explained here works. It was proven long before the AYE, tried and true.
That said, advancements in the realm of AT gear, specifically that which is designed for ski-mountaineering races, has a lot of applicability to backcountry/cross-country nordic-style skiing. BPL had a good article last year on this concept: AT-Nordic.
If the goal is to achieve the most efficient, lightweight form of travel, the advantage clearly lies in the free-pivot touring capability of tech bindings coupled with an extremely light, but warm skimo race boot. These boots are not only lighter than leather tele boots, but feature the obvious advantage of removable liners, not to mention flexibility that I seriously think challenges any leather boot. You can actually run in today’s race boots, there is that much forward and backward flex. Dynafit’s PDG is probably the most affordable race-caliber boot on the market.
Terrain will dictate what type of ski is best to use, but when it comes to the other two-thirds of a backcountry system, I see some type of light AT boot with tech bindings (sometimes just the toe pieces esp. for nordic setups) as the new standard for lightweight long-distance/expedition snow travel.
This is a very interesting discussion. Are rando boots and bindings a superior replacement for tele boots and 3-pin bindings, or does the latter system retain a competitive edge in a particular application? Certainly for a trip with noteable vertical, a stiff boot wins. But what about if it is just flat or rolling? And even if tele boots are more comfortable and do not have the transition hassles in that circumstance, does it make sense to give them up for a boot that is warmer, stays dryer, and offers more downhill performance?
If using the same skis for both setups, I don’t think 3-pin retains any competitive advantage over AT/tech.
Having come from 3-pin to tech bindings, I agree with the assessment of some others: skiing with a 3-pin setup is like driving with the parking brake on. The only criticism I’ve seen mustered against tech bindings is that, with the free-pivot nature, you don’t get the metatarsal flex that a tele or NNN boot offers, which can limit kick performance. Honestly, I think this criticism only applies to groomed trails. In the backcountry, you’re often breaking your own trail, and I find it is much easier to do so with tech bindings. The fact that modern backcountry tele bindings have a free-pivot touring mode is pretty indicative of which method is more efficient.
How long does an ascent/descent transition take? Modern skimo gear doesn’t take long at all: skins can be removed with skis still on your feet, you can lock in your heels with the twist of your pole, and your boots can be stiffened by locking just one buckle…or none at all in the case of Scarpa’s F1 Evo. Going back up will take longer due to skin reapplication, but you’d be doing that regardless of what boots/bindings you have.
You should try out an AT-Nordic setup and see for yourself how they perform. Even if you’re not maximizing the full potential of the boot/binding combo, the weight savings on your feet pays off over time.
That metatarsal effect you mention is not insignificant. Classic race skis have a bumper for a reason…they help with the transfer of power in the kick and glide cycle. Three-pin boots do the same thing, albeit in a more rudimentary way. If a complete free pivot was the best way to go, why do World Cup nordic skiing set-ups still use a bumper and a boot with significant metatarsal flex?
I agree, if somebody is shuffling and not kick-and-gliding, free pivot is fine and probably even better. But for somebody who is a cross country skier, the lack of metatarsal flex and some sort of bumper effect that nordic bindings (NNN BC or 3-Pin) provide is a hinderance.
Having tried both, I agree with Sondre. Don’t get me wrong. A. T. can be ridiculously light. For the amount of control they provide, they are also quite comfortable. But to me, they aren’t as comfortable as a good Nordic boot, because of the lack of metatarsal flex.
The other advantage to Nordic systems (including telemark) is that the transition is much simpler, especially if you aren’t dealing with skins. Ski down a slope, then up a slope. If you are wearing NNN BC gear or three pin, there is no transition. If you are dealing with Telemark, you fiddle with your bindings a bit. But with A. T., you unlock, click back in, and then start kicking and gliding. I’m sure I could get fast at it, but it still is a bit of a pain.
It really depends on the terrain. With rolling hills and a few steep sections, I think this gear makes the most sense. You can keep your cables in your pocket most of the time. Get to the steep section, and the cables come out. Back to rolling hills and the cables can go away.
But if you are going up and down and the transitions can be counted on one hand (or even two) than A. T. is the way to go (if you can afford it). Same is true if you plan on putting skins on every time you go up. It really depends on the terrain (as well as how well you can ski with floppy gear — or in my case, how tolerant you are of falling down).
The rando racers are unbelievably fast at transitioning, but on rolling terrain that transition time will still add up. Whereas a NNN-BC or 3-pin skier will not have to transition, so long as climbing skins, kicker skins, or cables are not needed.
thank you for discussing pricing. Not everyone has $4-5K laying around for overnight winter/ skiing setup.
My opinion– Marketing firms have done a fantastic job at convincing people that $ spent = happiness in the outdoors. You might be 20 lbs overweight but you definitely need to spend another $500 to save 6 grams in your ski boots. B/C Nordic setups are good for a huge % of people but they’re oversold by retail sales people and “what if” scernerios.
My experience, for fast movement on lower angle hiking trails, snowshoeing trails, light use snowmobile trails, 4×4 trails or any primitive road that is closed to winter vehicle use, the set up you discuss is near PERFECT– simple/ reliable, inexpensive, effective, and fast.
One thing I wish 3 pin had though– a DIN release. Something reassuring about knowing that’s there.
Indeed, the emphasis on weight is ironic given the extra body fat that many people carry. Gosh, think about the expense of saving weight through gear — here’s one example:
Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings – $400 – 12.9 oz
Dynafit TLT Speed Superlite Bindings – $550 – 7.1 oz
So that’s $25 per ounce! Spending all of that money seems a bit foolish, doesn’t it?
The Speed Superlites are an ideal AT-Nordic binding for a setup emphasizing vertical descents. There are places you can buy just toe pieces for less than half that price, which for flat/rolling terrain is all you need. The toe pieces for Dynafit’s Radical ST (5 oz. each) are about $200. Boot cost can’t be avoided unless you do a serious mod-job on some old TLT boots, and even then you won’t hit the level of comfort and touring flexibility achieved in some of today’s skimo race boots.
I used the price argument too before switching to this type of setup. There are ways to save money if you take the time to look.
Happily enough I live in a part of the world where Nordic ski gear is still available in many stores 🙂
Andrew, you and I have discussed this before, including before your Alaska trip I think: waxless versus waxable skis. I am a fan of waxless skis because to me the upside is bigger than the downside. The upside is less time spent with putting on and removing wax and less weight in the pack since you do not need wax (nor on many occassions skins).
The downside is that the waxless skis do not glide as well, giving you less milage per effort. So if you are not a good skier nor waxer (true for me inspite of my Scandinavian background) waxless skis are preferable. And on the opposite, if you are a capable, fast skier that can handle waxing in theory and practise, the waxable skis would be a better alternative.
Your comments on this?
Don’t forget snow conditions. I live in the Northwest U. S., where pass temperatures always seem to hover around freezing (give or take a few degrees). I started on waxless, and never looked back. I would have to switch waxes several times a day with these conditions.
On the other hand, I spent a few days in the Methow, on the drier, colder, more consistent eastern side of the Cascades. Temperatures were always several degrees below freezing, and didn’t change much. I saw guys waxing once, and they were cruising. They weren’t as fast the skaters, but they were still faster than me.
Indeed, waxless skis shine when the snow is wet, either consistently or sporadically (e.g. alternating sun-blasted meadows and shaded forests). In Colorado waxable skis normally are best. And when we do get those warm, wet days, I grab my kicker skins, which have better grip but less glide than fish scales.
Madshus Intelligrip kicker skins have proven to glide about as well as fishscales for me. They should work fine, without modification on your Nansen’s. The tip loop needs to modified or replaced for wider skis.
I can understand the cost argument against lightweight skimo gear, but there is no argument that these days the lightweight rando gear is lighter, stronger, more durable, AND faster than old school XCD/75mm setups. Seems to be working for the top guys at races like the Grand Traverse…a fairly flat and rolling course.
Lightweight rando gear is fast in the Elk for three reasons:
1. Crested Butte descent
2. Star Pass descent
3. Aspen Mountain descent
Those are three 1,500 to 3,500 foot descents down steep terrain that is absolutely better on plastic boots and single camber skis.
That said, I believe a good nordic skier with the right wax could dust a similar ability skier on lightweight AT gear from the bottom of CB to the Friends Hut, and also from the bottom of Star Pass to the top of Aspen Mountain. Let’s be honest…Richmond Ridge sucks with A.T. gear.
I ski most mornings and have both types of gear. On skis with approximately 100-150 feet of climbing and descending per mile, I’m usually a minute faster per mile with a set-up very similar to what Skurka shows here versus my Aliens and Trabs with Mohair skins. On steeper terrain the difference dwindles and eventually goes the other way. The point is, it’s all very terrain dependent, as Skurka points out.
Any tips for moving from classic nordic to backcountry? I use my skinny classics on rolling ungroomed trails (in the northern catskills) with some success, but wonder if switching to a baccountry style would be more fun and less work.
I think there are two steps. If your skis are really skinny, then get some fatter ones to go with your existing boots. Don’t get really fat skis, because then you will have to get bigger boots. But get skis with about 10 mm in sidecut, but are still light. I like my old Fischer Inbound Crown, which are 68-58-64. They don’t have metal edges, but they have way more control than a typical really skinny ski. I have other skis, the Fischer Motion Crown, that I use with the same boots. I use that setup when I’m on the groomed areas and I want fast and light. But for more challenging terrain (like just about anything ungroomed, like logging roads) I switch to my other skis.
Or I switch to a setup a lot like what this article suggest. I happen to have NNN BC boots, but if I had to do it all over again, I would do something like this. The big advantage to three pin is that you can add the cable, which gives you more flexibility. If the conditions are easy, then keep the cables at home (or in your pocket) but once it gets hard, then put them on. I think there are also a wider variety of three pin boots out there. There seemed to be a “move” to BC a few years ago, but I think that has stopped, for the reason I just mentioned.
Andy – AT gear is faster in the Elk because of the drop down C.B., and then Star Pass, and then Aspen Mountain. Those are significant descents where you have to let it run to do well. For a good cross country skier it’s definitely slower on A.T. gear join up Brush Creek to the Friends Hut as well as from the bottom of Star Pass to the top of Aspen. Skinning on Richmond Ridge is downright agonizing. The main difference is the skis – single camber skis like the PDG and Trab stuff don’t hold wax like the ski Skurka describes here. Mohair skins are fast, but nowhere near as fast as a good skier on good wax.
Part of the problem is that in the U.S. there is a severe lack of good classic nordic skiers. The folks at the trailhead shuffling are just as well off on AT gear, and probably better off, because the boots are stiff and they are not kick and gliding anyhow. But take a good nordic skier on a rolling trail without 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 foot descents respectively and they’ll be faster than an AT skier.
“Let’s be honest…Richmond Ridge sucks with A.T. gear.”
“Skinning on Richmond Ridge is downright agonizing.”
It seems like you guys are lumping tech bindings in with alpine skis. There’s no reason – aside from pleasing sponsors – that you can’t toss tech bindings on a textured or waxable base nordic-ish ski.
Yeah, I’ve done that, and it is a common setup in the Northwest (where snow conditions make waxing a pain). We have a huge mix of terrain as well (one minute it is rolling, the next minute is it steep, then there is a cliff. There can be a lot of transitions with a typical tour, and not having to deal with skins for part of it can save a lot of time (and be a lot more fun). But a lot of folks want the control of A. T. (or plastic boot Telemark) to handle the really steep stuff.
I’m of the opinion a lot of this is media/industry driven. Dynafit, Scarpa and the entire industry have a major stake in this game. Part of their plan is undoubtable marketing. It’s the largest segment of skier growth in the industry. Hence well funded backcountry films with , #dynafit hashtags everywhere on Instagram, sponsored athletes, etc. This stuff works, yes, but it’s not anywhere close to the only way to travel in the backcountry.
There is essentially no nordic ski touring culture in the United States. There is zero hype. It’s billed as a lame sport for old folks who can’t ski. There are no nordic ski touring films, no Instagram hashtags, no sponsored athletes. It’s a shame, because you can literally buy three to four of these set-ups for the cost of one A.T. set-up. And the truth is you can do a lot with it.
In Norway there is a race called Expedition Amundsen that makes the Elk look like a T-Ball game. There isn’t an AT set-up anywhere to be seen, and it’s not because Norwegians don’t pay attention to this stuff. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ut1IRDNY1Q
Check out this video of these Norwegian girls doing a really cool trip. Fun music, young people, good-looking girls with a spirit for adventure and awesome terrain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0Uw2E-hMt8
There are limits to this gear, although they are mostly skill based. And they are not for everything. But in many cases it’s the best tool for the job, and for 1/4 the cost it’s usually the best tool for the job.
Nordic ski touring has ZERO hype and that’s part of what makes it so damned fun. But just because the industry isn’t pouring millions of dollars of money into it doesn’t mean the adventures are any less awesome if somebody is using nordic touring gear and leather boots. Just the opposite actually.
To grow in the U.S., this facet of the sport needs more articles, some young people with energy making films and taking photos and more people willing to learn how to really nordic ski. It’s so simple and cheap. It reminds me of backpacking in the 70’s – simple gear and a spirit of adventure are all that’s required. It’s the technology, cost antithesis, like single speed bikes were 15 years ago.
Give it a shot – you’ll smile more than you knew was possible!
“There is essentially no nordic ski touring culture in the United States.”
Visit Alaska, and you will see this is not the case. Both Anchorage and Fairbanks have excellent trail networks, and several Olympians reside here. Furthermore, we’ve got a nice little race known as the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic, where roughly 20 people crazy enough to attempt it each year travel 150-200 miles with minimal gear (and sleep) from one place to another, through one of AK’s mountain ranges, currently the Wrangell’s. You will see a wide range of innovative ski systems used, but the AT-Nordic system (TLT boots & toe pieces on Nordic backcountry (classic profile, waxable, metal-edged) skis) is catching on as a go-to setup for it’s warmth, efficiency, and reliability.
What we’re finding is that this type of system offers improvements over older setups, particularly leather boots & 3-pin bindings. I have yet to see or hear of tech bindings failing in the field (I’m sure it’s happened in some instance, so don’t waste your time scouring the Internet to disprove me) but even Andrew demonstrates in his post how 3-pin setups can fail with the holes wearing out. It’s fairly common in my estimation, given the continuous friction of metal-on-rubber. Also, NNN/SNS boots & bindings can easily ice up, or the toe bar can rip out. These single-boot systems usually result in some sort of super-gaiter or overboot being fashioned in order to maintain warmth, which adds weight to the overall system.
There is a reason the TLT binding is more expensive, more appealing, and thus more marketable: it’s superior technology. It’s not a black/white proposition of “this system works and these systems don’t.” Simply put, AT/Skimo technology applied to Nordic-style skiing offers an upgrade, in many different ways, to the enjoyment of backcountry travel. For where I live and the type of landscapes I venture into, I found the value of such an upgrade outweighed the financial cost.
I strongly urge anyone reading this to check out Ryan Jordan’s BPL article (if they have a subscription) from last year, titled “AT Nordic Ski Systems: Discovering the Best of Backcountry Nordic and Alpine Touring Systems Through Hybridization”. He really breaks down the barrier that a lot of comments on here seem to reveal; the thought that there’s a definitive rift between AT and Backcountry/Nordic that can’t be negotiated with, be it for price or whatever.
Just few notes:
1. I think that approach used by number of teams in Expedition Amundsen is different than the one applied during Alaska Mountain Wilderness Ski Classic. It appears to me that Classic’s participants are looking for the most efficient way of covering the distance, whereas Amundsen’s participants are looking for finishing the distance (except for a few top people who race extremely hard).
Also, I see no reason in compering toughness of the races. Yes, Hardangervidda may be a tough place, but still manageable (I know because I did it solo in mid December during little “kuling”).
2. I never was able to understand why, but from my observations it appears that F&L hiking is not that popular in Scandinavia. People are much more into traditional forms of tourism. Please have a look what people wear (e.g., Lundhags boots during summer when it is 30 degrees outside; huge backpacks for few days hike) or check the test of Fjell og Vidda (usually the heaviest equipment in the set wins the first prize).
I believe the same applies to skiing, as locals are using XC setups (3 pin or NNNs) because this is what they are used to and quite seldom they look for more efficient setups.
3. To picture the above. Few of the people to whom I talked in Haukeliseter and who were about to take part in Amundsen race were saying they are going “light”, although they were very much into heavy gear (think Fjällräven).
4. Obligation to use pulkas during Amundsen Race may be one of the reasons why people choose traditional XC setups.
5. Cost of the gear is not a problem in Scandinavia, people are rich compared to rest of the world (especially in oil-rich Norway).
6. I hardly noticed AT (or “topptur” ski as it is called locally) gear in the shops in Norway and Sweden. From my perspective only few specialist shops sell it (e.g., Oslo Sports Lager / Sportsnett). XXLs/Intersports – no chance.
7. Although the nordic skiing culture is big in Norway, I noticed that there are very few people (i) skiing outside the season (i.e., earlier than February / March, those in December / January are usually not from Scandinavia), (ii) skiing off the beaten track and in the tent (probably due to exceptional DNT’s hut system).
>>”There is essentially no nordic ski touring culture in the United States.”
This is incorrect. Back country ski touring has been alive and well in the Colorado Front Range and Southern Wyoming since the 1980s. (Also Utah, and even in the upper Midwest.) Every winter weekend people head up the Colorado river canyons for day trips on touring gear. There are also back country cabins in the national forest that can be rented. There are several clubs that do back country day trips. Cameron Pass and the Arapaho National Forrest have many ski trails. Curt Gowdy State Park and the Snowy Range west of Laramie are more remote and very nice.
You just don’t read about it on-line, in video, or in magazines. Ski touring in the U.S. isn’t “hip” like ski-area telemarking. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the equipment has pretty much stayed the same since the 1990s. (NNN-BC bindings are not durable enough for back country telemarking [seen plenty of them break] and NTN bindings are too heavy and ridiculously expensive.) Another reason is that in ski touring you are basically just enjoying the quiet back country, just like snowshoeing or hiking in the summer – so there isn’t all that much you can write about that or hype up. Many people these days need to be constantly entertained, and gravitate toward area skiing, just like snowboarding – wearing headphones, talking on their phones to each other, hanging out at the ski lodge, and generally trying to be noticed. Then they write on-line or post videos about “skiing the new pow, dude!” on their $800 worth of ski gear.
Typical touring gear is still heavy 3-pin bindings (Voile Mountaineers or Rotefella still made), camber-and-a-half waxable metal-edged touring skis, and medium-weight backcountry boots. Along with some new equipment, I still have my original setup – stiff leather Asolo Snowpines, Voile 3-pin bindings on Voile release plates (no longer made) with heel lifts, Choinard skins, and bright red lightweight Fischer Telemarks (1990s vintage). Also, of course avalanche beacon, shovel, probe poles, etc.
The Asolo and Merrell leather boots from the 1990s were very durable and can last a lifetime and be resoled. Similar heavy leather three pin boots are still made but are much more expensive than they used to be (even considering inflation). But there are plenty of affordable current medium weight boots made of less expensive materials from the major makers like Fischer and Alpina. The outdoor stores in Colorado – REI, Neptune’s, EMS, Jax, etc. carry touring equipment. (Snowshoeing equipment is also very popular for the same trails.)
In my opinion, telemark area skiing is just a subset of downhill skiing now with heavy super-expensive NTN bindings, wide/fat/heavy skis, and heavy, tall plastic boots. And I rarely see any one with alpine touring equipment in the mountains, probably because it is much heavier than nordic touring equipment and it is really a slow, slog up a mountain with all that. Lifting several pounds on your feet gets old real fast on a multi-mile tour. I’ve AT equipment before and don’t see the point, unless you are winter mountaineering – though I’ve gone plenty high with touring equipment.
Joining the conversation way late, but Dave Collins this is spot-on.
When you’ve done a number of multi-day winter backcountry trips you see that the heavier AT/rando/tele gear is too heavy and stiff for wilderness touring (i.e. the equivalent of backpacking in the winter).
Telemark area skiing is a subset of downhill skiing. Lots of folks never even learn to do a proper tele turn on modern tele gear; they are just alpine skiing with tele gear for the “cool” factor. Even light rando gear is too stiff for hiking very far – I tried it. Having a full binding for short descents isn’t worth the discomfort on a long multi-day tour.
I suspect many of the comments here were posted by folks that haven’t actually ventured that far afield.
Here’s a follow-up comment after several years. Unfortunately the original quote made by Sondre be coming true: ”There is essentially no nordic ski touring culture in the United States.”
Yes, in northern Europe it will always be popular – there are lots of YouTube videos showing this. However, in the U.S., compared to years ago, I’ve noticed that there are far fewer people ski touring. I’ve seen this significant decrease just over about the past five years (and far less available touring equipment in stores). This directly corresponds to people spending more of their spare time online with social media, and less time outdoors.
In in the Colorado Front Range, nordic ski touring equipment of the kind described in the article is becoming very hard to find. The only place I’ve found is Neptune’s in Boulder. You can still order three-pin bindings directly from Voile in Utah (HD Mountaineer and the lighter 201s) and a few other stores online (REI?). However, equipment choices in the U.S. are getting very limited, especially with waxable touring skis. Asnes, Fischer, and a few other European ski companies are still making properly-sized narrower waxable skis, but they are now importing very few into the U.S. (not sure about Canada).
Full-grain leather three-pin Norwegian-welt boots are also very hard to come by in the U.S. anymore. All the quality Crispi boots Neptune’s gets in at the beginning of the season are usually quickly sold out (except for the tiny sizes). There are a few other European manufacturers, but they are not importing the boots to the U.S. And most of the boots in the U.S. from Rossignol, Alpina and Alfa (either three-pin or NNN BC) are very poor by comparison Of course Asolo and Merrell stopped importing high-quality leather three-pin touring boots from Italy many years ago. And even the new Rottefella Xplore boot/binding system has also been very slow to reach any stores in the U.S.. I don’t think you can buy the boots anywhere.
If you go to other outdoor stores (e.g. Jax in Colorado), they no longer have waxable touring skis as they used to, just waxless (which of course make that annoying “ZZZZ” noise). These are also are wider than they need to be for pleasant touring, and only come in shorter lengths (190 or less). These types of skis with more sidecut are perhaps easier to turn, but are much slower to kick and glide. The short lengths are not good if you are carrying the extra weight of a pack – especially for taller men. There are also the super-wide waxless skis that are more like snowshoes and easier for beginners. Most outdoor stores also are no longer carrying ski waxes, except for glide wax. It has to be ordered online. And a few of the online stores that sold ski touring equipment have closed over the past few years.
When I go out, the number of people I’ve seen ski touring in the Front Range over the past five years or so has declined significantly; same is true for backpacking. I do see some snowshoers going a short distance and of course snowmobiles. In comparison to downhill skiing (still popular, and expensive), I think young people in the U.S. today just feel ski touring is too much effort. “Skimo” competition has become popular with the super-fit crowd (obvioualy a small segment of the population), but that is much different from nordic touring, and the equipment is VERY expensive.
There is obviously a cultural change going on – I see very few children playing outside anymore or people riding bikes for transportation around town. As I wrote, people spending a lot of spare time online with social media obviously has a lot to do with this.
On the bright side, all this leaves the backcountry less crowded for us. The problem is that once your old equipment wears out, you may not be able to replace it from local U.S. stores, and either have to get it from just a few stores online or may have to order it from Europe.
I forgot to mention that Voile also still makes the three-pin cable binding mentioned in the original article above (the cables are removable for better kick and glide on the flats). With that cable binding, the Voile HD Mountaineer (similar binding but no cables), or the slightly lighter Voile 201 binding, you can also order the lowest-height 48 mm Voile “climbing wires” to mount under the heel pad to use when climbing a slope.
The Voile cable binding and the HD Mountaineer work best with thicker boot soles (up to about 20 mm), while thinner soles (around 14 mm) will clamp down better with the 201s. The 201 bindings were discontinued for a while, so I’d get them while you still can if you have thinner soles – they are a bit thinner but plenty strong.
Rottefella also makes the Super Telemark 3-pin binding, which has a wide range of adjustment for boot soles (but no climbing wire option on the heel pad). Rottefella does make a cable version of this binding but it is very hard to find in the U.S. There are reviews of these bindings on Amazon and other sites like telemarktalk.com (they have touring discussions/info on that site, not just downhill telemark).
Unfortunately, as I wrote, it is getting very hard to find good touring boots in the U.S. (3-pin or NNN BC) and good waxable touring skis. The synthetic boots just don’t hold up anywhere near as well as the full-grain leather boots described in the article (the full-grain Norwegian-welt leather boots are works of art). There is a much better selection of equipment in the northern European countries (including leather boots), since ski touring there is a very popular pastime due to the climate and rolling hills; and good snow nearly everywhere in the winter. Most children learn to cross country ski at an early age. I don’t know if Canadian stores still have a good selection, or if cultural change has decreased ski touring there also.
one year on and dave’s still right. i was bored and given the dearth of traditional touring equipment i decided to improvise. i mounted a race AT toe piece (Kruezspitze SCTT) to youth-sized skate skis i picked up used for $60 (skate ski = no fishscales and more camber than classic skis for a given length allowing for decent kick and glide even in short lengths) and donned some AT race boots (PDG 2). talk about fun on narrow trails! way faster, lighter and more nimble with better tracking than my 185cm madshus epochs. much easier to control, turn and climb with than my 200cm madshus glittertinds. it is also fairly easy to skate ski with this setup when conditions are right. just don’t expect much float in powder! next season i might try something like the fischer transnordic 59 in the shortest length (170cm), but as dave mentioned i’d have to order them from europe (not as expensive as you would think).
the peaks trail and other trails south of frisco, co are a good reference for the type of skiing i would use this setup for. this is not flat, open terrain hence my preference for shorter lengths.
Jon, very interesting. I’m a bit surprised that AT bindings even fits on skate skis, which tend to be about 41-44 mm wide. For that use case, lighter boots with the new Rottefella Xplore binding seems like a good option too, although I just checked and they mention 68 mm waist as the narrow end of the range for Xplore.
I am having a hard time imagining the experience of AT race boots on youth skate skis, but I’m primarily an XC racer type so of course I think the Salomon S/Lab skate boots I have are superior to any AT boot (lighter, carbon stiffness, and free heel). Pricey, though; $800 list price.
I love these discussions of what I call my Armageddon ski setup, the one do-all ski set up I would take into the bunker with me, in anticipation of that nuclear winter. Much of it comes down to a choice of personal style; the ‘do more with less’ ethos vs. the ‘bigger hammer’ approach. Boots that allow you to flex at the ball of your foot feel much more natural and efficient for covering ground but rely more on technique and snow sense to handle steeper terrain, and require a higher degree of humility for struggling in trickier conditions.
For tours with a balanced mixture of horizontal and vertical, I like to use a two buckle plastic tele boot with my three pins on a fatter metal edged fishscale ski with less camber and more side cut. And then the challenge becomes judging the snow conditions and knowing the terrain well enough to pick the right spot and timing, using skill and experience to make up for less restrictive gear. If you got the skills to ski it free heel, why use the ‘training wheels’?
Thanks for the article! Very interesting. I’m trying to put together a thrift store backcountry ski kit and I have the skis and poles; just need the boots. But the boots are what most confound me. I had assumed that if I was doing a multi-day trip I would need double layer boots, but it looks like you don’t. Did you use these boots as your main footwear on the Alaska-Yukon trip or did you also carry trail runners and neoprene overboots?
I have seen old school cross country 3 pin boots that look like little more than bowling shoes, which don’t seem like they’d be suitable for hiking in the cold. When you’re using your leather ski boots, what is your sock system? Are you using VBLs? Do you change to something else in camp/ meal breaks? Do you keep them in your bag overnight or use another strategy to keep them from freezing? Thanks very much; I really appreciate the amount of info you pack I to your posts!
The bowling shoe-like boots, like these Alpina Blazers? Unless you will always be skiing on flat terrain and never hiking in them, you will want something more substantial — they are very flexible (so comfortable touring, but poor turning) and the outsole is far from Vibram.
Yes, I used these boots in Alaska. My sock system was:
My boots have two limitations. First, they are not very stiff, so turning a big ski is more difficult than it would be in plastic boots. Second, like all leather footwear, when they get wet, they stay wet for a long time. In Colorado, this is not usually a concern — our snow normally light and dry. In Alaska, I struggled in the springtime with river fords and very wet snow. My feet were wet everyday. Before I went to sleep, I would open up my boot and loosen the laces so that at least I could get my foot into it in the morning. I didn’t bring them into my bag — the discomfort in the morning was less than the discomfort of sleeping with wet boots.
Andrew what is the ski system that you use for hut trips and resorts? I see a pair of orange red boots in some of your pictures that look like a pair of nordicas I saw once but I cannot tell for sure. I take it this post above does not describe the set up you used on your recent hut trip described a few posts earlier?
In the photo in this blog post, I am using my alpine touring (AT) ski system. On that particular trip, Dave and I opted for this system because the route from one of the huts descends 1,500 vertical feet in about 2.25 miles, and most of the drops happen in three bursts, with flat-ish meadows in between (formerly glacial lakes). Slopes of that steepness are beyond my comfort range with my Nordic gear, especially in deep powder on narrow tree-lined trails. Unfortunately, the remaining 20 miles we skied that weekend were perfectly suited for it, and the flat and rolling sections were painfully slow and tiresome on AT gear. It’s a good route-planning lesson: plan routes that match the strengths of your skis.
My AT gear looks like this:
* 3-buckle plastic boots
* Dynafit bindings
* Atomic skis – 176 cm long, 123/86/144 mm at tip/waist/tail
* Full-length climbing skins
I have not updated my AT gear since 2008 and it’s antiquated now, not worth being described more specifically. At some point I will do an article like this one on my AT system. I touched on many of the decision points and technologies in discussing Amanda’s ski rig, but that post does not follow this format. Her ski system is light enough for backcountry touring, but sturdy enough for downhill skiing at the resorts. You can go heavier or lighter, but this system seems to work for what she does with it.
I am currently in the process of completing my first ever AT set up. I have 180 cm long Voile Vector skis (not the BC version). I plan to use them for going down just as much (if not more) as I plan to use them for going up.
What I can’t seem to get a straight answer on or figure out is: when choosing bindings, what is the benefit of a binding like this: Black Diamond Fritschi Diamir Freeride Pro Binding over a tech binding like the Dynafit TLT Radical ST??
Weight is an obvious difference with these two bindings. But otherwise I don’t understand why a skier would pick one over the other.
Hopefully you can help! Thank you.
For a more in-depth answer, read this page. But here’s the short version.
Frame bindings like the Fritschi are heavy but their downhill performance is nearly synonymous with dedicated alpine bindings, i.e. stiff, DIN certified, durable.
Tech bindings sacrifice some downhill performance for their light weight.
At least historically that is the answer. But if you read around I’m sure that you’ll see people skiing really hard on tech bindings, with big skis and heavy boots. I think the gap in downhill performance has closed in recent years.
Also, I originally thought I needed the Fritschi bindings b/c there was too much risk of release w/ tech bindings for aggressive resort days. Really don’t want all that extra weight though if I don’t need it!
My bindings are several generations old — Dynafit Tri Step. I ski hard but within control, and if I recall I’m about your size. I’ve never had them pop out in a non-fall situation. Many bigger guys are skiing much more aggressively with them and I think if accidental release were a problem then Dynafit wouldn’t own the market like they do.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: thank you so much for providing excellent, unbiased information in a clear and concise manner!
It seems to me that there is a lot more snow-covered terrain suited for Nordic gear than there is Alpine terrain. I think the Asnes skis used by the US Army and Marines with the Rottefella NATO cable bindings are a good , general purpose compromise. However, I have a pair of Soviet military bindings that I am thinking about trying out — they have the adjustable toe box with strap (over toe of boot) but use simple rubber straps (similar to 3/4 inch strap cut from bicycle inner tube) instead of heavy cable/spring. Evidently the metal cable/spring in the Rottefella NATO binding had to be made heavy because metal is becomes brittle in -40 deg temperatures.
PS My impression is that military skiing is driven by the need to have a range of boots for different temperature ranges and hence adjustable bindings. Their white vapor barrier boots are designed for temperatures of -40 deg F or lower. Plus they may be out for several days and only have a tent in which to dry out socks that have become wet.
I am interested in the boots the army uses that you speak. Any links?
Note the two types — black (for -20 deg F) and white (for -65 deg F). Note also that
they have rubber wedges on the back of the heel to hold the cable of the ski bindings.
Just chiming in from New England – we definitely still have a nordic touring culture here, with long approaches to alpine terrain in our mtns. and the Adirondacks. Cold temps make waxing skis work great most of the winter. I also use the Rotte Super Tele binding and Crispi Antarctic for touring.
It’s hard to say that AT boots are lighter than something like Crispi Antarctic – I believe the weight difference of the boots cited is less than 100 gram difference? A more accurate statement would be that the very lightest and flimsiest AT boots manage to equal the weight of a 75mm leather touring boot like the Crispi.
OF COURSE the Crispis are more comfortable for touring! Do people hike the Appalachian Trail in plastic mountaineering boots? Hell no! Leather is far more comfortable on my feet than plastic for long slogs. Kicking and gliding with broken-in Crispis is a heavenly feeling – with well-waxed skis it actually feels like you’re flying over the ground.
AT gear rocks for hard turns down steeps, and strictly up-and-down tours, yes it does. But I can’t say how many times I’ve seen people doing XC skiing with heavy and stiff AT gear and fat skis. The marketing brainwashing is in high gear.
What I see is a generation of skiers that grew up with wide and deep sidecut skis that turn automatically. I see a generation deprived of the ankle, leg, and hip angulation that used to be needed to control skis. For this generation, making the classic tele turn on skinny skis is very difficult – it requires independent leg action and difficult balancing and body angulation, you don’t just weight and unweight and watch the skis turn.
And how many AT skis even come in 210cm? The physics of gliding have not changed, 210 glides better than 190 every time.
Does the metal plate of the BD kicker skins remain flush against the ski? Just wondering if it is prone to collecting snow at times? Do you have to stop and re-tighten the straps frequently in order to prevent this? Thanks for the informative write up.
It must, or else it becomes a snowplow. My most recent pair is like this, whereas my first pair of kicker skins was better. I keep meaning to send it in for warranty (faulty design) but have not.
Thanks Andrew. I plan on using them for steeper situations on a pair of BC 125 waxless skis. The compact size is appealing but I don’t want the headache if they tend to become snowplows. Otherwise, I’ll go for full skins. Sounds like they are fine unless you get a defective product.
Excellent report on your Nordic touring gear. Really appreciate it. I lust over your Asnes skis. I would like a pair of Nansens and Ingstads (for deeper snow).
A few comments:
1) the NNN-BC binding that is prone to icing up is the “auto”- not the manual.
2) the NNN-BC bindings with manual levers appear to be just as reliable as 75mm-3-pin. I have read a number of reports of successful polar expeditions on NNN-BC.
My final comment is directed to the AT-enthusiasts that replied to this post.
A free-pivot binding will NEVER offer true “kick” and glide performance- compared to a traditional Nordic binding. There HAS to be resistance in the binding, for there to be a true “kick”- otherwise you are merely walking at best.
A free-pivot binding offers kick-ass climbing performance (up very steep slopes).
Having toured with both AT setups, and a wide range of Nordic setups (from light-duty, to big-mtn tele)- I would never question the downhill performance of AT.
However- I would never try to claim that a free-pivot binding can outperform a trad Nordic binding when K&G touring!
to reduce/remove lens distortion while taking a picture, hold camera farther away and zoom in to fill frame. if that even matters to anyone
I bought a pair of Alpina Discovery 68 Touring Skis last season…normally take them on a few forest road climbs (where you can get around 1000′-2000′ ascent). I thought I would just give it a whirl last season and see how I liked it, and I enjoyed it. Great fun and a super workout! Found my setup reasonably priced so I could always invest in a pricier AT setup later….but for this immediate season I will stick with my current setup.
I am confused with skins though. Would something like those BD Kicker Skins fit, or would any other skins even be able to fit a ski like mine? Think they are a 60mm waist?
Would appreciate any input on this.
Kicker skins are mostly of a backcountry Nordic thing (AT guys use full-length, and cross-country skiers don’t need them) so you should be able to find a pair for your skis. The ski length is irrelevant — the skin sits inside the wax pocket only.
The Black Diamond Kicker Skins are available in widths 50-90 mm in 15-mm increments. If you order these, make sure that the metal plate sits flush against the ski. A few of the reviews mention how theirs do not sit flush, and thus acts like a snowplow; I’ve had that exact problem with my most recent pair, too. BD usually does not make mistakes like this, so hopefully they have solved the problem.
Thanks for the quick reply!
Really appreciate it.
Hello, nice to see someone talking about this. As a Norwegian, this stuff is imprinted from a young age to me, and its the norm here for winter use outside the groomed trails. let me ask you, why no pulk/sled?
and i use the nnn BC bindings, have been for years, and they almost never fill with ice/snow for me, does this mean i am abnormal? haha.
Greetings from Norway!
Re the pulk/sled, my pack is generally light enough (20 lbs without food & water, even in winter) that it’s not worth the extra fuss to have a sled.
FWIW I bought a pair of BD kicker skins last year and the metal clip dragged badly. For this reason they only worked well on un-interrupted climbing, on flat or downhill sections the metal scoop effect makes you move in herky-jerky fashion, very annoying and energy-sapping. they were effective in terms of traction. and lighter in the pack than full-length skins.
I would rate them as something to carry for backup or an occasional steep climb, but not something you plan to use on a regular basis or for a long tour. if the Asnes and Fischer integrated ones work better, that’s a good reason to use those skis.
Return them. They are faulty. Even if you bought them last year and used them, they are faulty, and Black Diamond should stand behind their manufacturing warranty.
My experience with them during the Alaska Yukon Expedition was excellent. They were a field-friendly substitute for Klister, and they gave me sufficient traction for moderate climbing.
Andrew – thanks for the thought – I got them on sale, they’re still useful, I won’t bother to return them. I’ve already gotten a bunch of use out of them. I’d rather see a revision to the design.
Great info! I was just messing around last weekend on a cheap nordic setup and thinking about my lightweight-but-heavy AT set up in the shed and here I am!
On the boots you state “Leather boots are expensive and have a long “breaking in” period. But long-term they are a better investment than boots made with synthetic leather or other materials.”
Can you elaborate? Why are they a better investment? performance durability?
The waterproofness of the leather can be restored to “like new” condition, using a product like Snoseal. The same cannot be said for non-leather boots that rely on a bootie made of waterproof-breathable material.
Love the info.
i am looking for a leather boot for a nordic touring set up to sit on a pair of fischer rebounds. I was wondering if you have ever re-soled a pair of hiking boots with 75mm 3 pin vibrum? I have a pair of gornell klondike boots that need to be resoled. They are still very stiff. The boots are so comfertable, think they would make a great ski boot.
I’ve not herd of anyone replacing hiking boots with 75mm vibrum, but with the selection being thin it seems like a good option.
Thankfully I leave within a 1-mile radius of one of the few shops in the country that sells leather telemark boots, Neptune Mountaineering, so I have not had to face this issue.
For resoling telemark boots, you might want to talk with these guys: http://www.rmresole.com/telemarkskiresole.html
I’ve been skiing east coast mountain bike trails, using Scarpa T4 two buckle plastic boots with 3-pin bindings without cables, on 125cm Altai Hoks (124/110/122) with the built-in skins and metal edges. These are narrow (18-48″) trails with lots of up and down, and many twists, turns, and short dips. Sometimes, there is a need to side-step up steeper inclines, where the ski length is barely short enough to fit on the trail sideways. Some dowhills are pretty steep and staying on the trails can be difficult, but often necessary, because of the trees.
It seems like this forum has a lot of serious experience. I am somewhat new to skiing, crossing over from other adventure sports, like mountain biking; so, I am wondering what thoughts are out there about this sort of mountaineering, this kit, and possible other options for gear that might work. Thanks a lot.
Rather than us speculate, can you offer thoughts about what your kit is lacking? For such conditions I would normally recommend snowshoes, but obviously skis are far preferable if you can find a system that works. It sounds like you might have.
You make a good point. I’m not sure if this system is lacking anything in particular. Perhaps, this is the right gear for these trails. I’m basically just looking for input from those who may have more experience than I do. Thanks for this blog. It has a lot of great info.
Martin curious if you are still quite satisfied with that set up or if you have discovered and deficiencies? I am thinking of trying the same set up out here in Utah but maybe the 145 version of the Altai Hoks and adding a cable to the 3 pin set up to allow for a little more skiing like function on bigger and sometimes more open hills out here. Would love to hear your thoughts.
Great article. I use Fischer E109 with Scarpa T4 boots but also use Alico leather boots if i am not going to be downhilling a great deal. Happy touring!
Hi Andrew. What are your thoughts on Altai Hok skis? Are they good skis for Wisconsin backwoods and hills?
I have not used or even seen a pair, so I can only speculate.
Because of the integrated skin and short-and-wide shape, they will excel in rolling and tight terrain. They are not as fast as conventional skis, but they are faster than snowshoes, and probably about as maneuverable for someone with moderate skills.
I am currently in the process of revamping my backcountry ski touring setup. What I have now is too heavy and cumbersome. I am looking for suggestions. I’m trying to keep costs under control as well. I would classify my skill level as an experienced backcountry skiier.
Current setup: Scarpa Skookum boots. K2 Coomback 188 skis. Full length Black Diamond Nylon Ascension skins. Diamir Fritschi Vipec 12 bindings.
I weigh 140lb. My trips are multi day and distance oriented. I always have an 35lb pack on while skiing. I’m usually alone breaking trail. I’m not out to make turns, I’m looking to get from point A to B.
Trees, brush, valleys, rolling hills, some passes and the occasional windswept bulletproof ridgeline are where I ski. I avoid avalanche terrain. I rarely lock my heels down in the bindings.
Currently I kick wax the middle of the Coombacks and only use the skins for steep ascents over passes and on wind slab. The skins add a tremendous amount of drag and weight. If it wasn’t for the waxing I wouldn’t get very far.
I was considering going the backcountry tele route. Something like Scarpa T4 boots, Voile Switchback bindings and Fischer S bound skis with kicker skins.
The more natural flex and movement of a tele boot would be nice. I would like a pair of Alico Mod Double leather tele boots. They have a removable liner. Unfortunately I can’t find them in my size 8.5. Scarpa Wasatch boots would work too, but they don’t have a removable liner.
Thing is at 3lb 4oz the Scarpa T4 boots are getting close to being as heavy as my current Scarpa Skookums (4lb 2oz)
I’ve also considered getting a light race AT boot like the La Sportiva Sideral (2lb 9oz) or the Garmont Literider G-Fit (2lb 10oz).
My line of reasoning with the race AT boots is I already have the Fritschi tech bindings.
I’m open to any and all suggestions.
I think it’s worth noting that prior to this heavy AT setup I exclusively used a very basic cross country ski and NNN BC boots/bindings. With it being so light in hindsight I had more fun on that simple and cheap gear than I do with my current heavy equipment. I was able to access many remote areas, but of course had little to no control on any downhills.
For a ski I want a waxless scaled base.
I live in Northwestern Wyoming so if anyone wants to work out a trade for some different gear I’m open to that.
I have an update. Finally put together my backcountry ski gear for this year. Wanted to share in case someone else finds this useful.
I got Fischer S-Bound 112 skis 169cm long.. They have a full sintered base and are a higher quality ski than comparable Rossignol skis I looked at. They are also double cambered and have excellent glide. The base material Fischer uses is also tough and resistant to going over roots and rocks.
I’ll use them with the Fischer EZ Skin system. It’s rare that I’ll need the skins but when I do they’ll be enough. And the shorter length skin won’t weigh as much. They are a mohair mix and are supposed to glide well.
I paired the skis with Rossi NNN BC bindings and boots I already had. I went with this boot/binding combo to save weight, improve comfort and save money. I came to the conclusion that when I go downhill I end up using the grade to gain distance.
This setup will work perfectly for what I want to do. Coasting slowly down the side of a mountain rather than taking the shortest line to the bottom.
The skis were brand new and leftover from last year. I picked them up for $300. Sold my heavy AT gear and had money left over. It all worked out.
Victor, any impressions of those S-Bound 112s yet? I am considering the S-Bound 98s, but anything wider I think would be too wide for what I want to do here in western Oregon. I am looking at the Fischer Excursion 88 as my first choice–not too wide or parabolic, still have the EZ Skin though. I plan to do mostly hilly woods skiing with some moderately steep up and down from time to time, but no avalanche terrain. Thanks for the input re bindings; I am leaning toward NNN BC as the best bet.
Yeah I love them! I’ve been out a handful of times so far and they are better than I expected. The scales cover a sizable portion of the base and the skis both climb and glide better than I expected.
The bases are tough too. I’ve buzzed over stones and sticks and did scratch the bottoms but not nearly as much as I would have thought.
The EZ skins work well, they add a little more grip than the scales but not much more. They do glide nicely. I don’t expect the EZ skins to last more than a couple seasons, they aren’t that durable. Considering they don’t clip to the tail of the ski I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find they don’t peel off.
I will probably pick up a full length set of used beater skins and trim them down to a narrow full length skin for these skis for those times when a steep climb is in order.
I don’t have very much downhill control with the NNN boots and bindings. I’m able to put the skis into a basic snowplow but not much else. My boots are old. I think a new pair would give better control and support. However I am happy with the compromise. The NNN boots and bindings give great freedom of movement and are nice and light.
I hot waxed the tips and tails and then used a block of wax to wax the scales by rubbing it over them in the direction of travel to keep from filling the scales with wax. Then used a hair dryer to warm up the wax over the scales so it would absorb. Worked pretty well.
I had also looked at the S-Bound 98’s. I’m sure they’d work well. I have found that with these 112’s being wider it gives my ankles a break in terms of keeping the ski level. The fatter ski is less prone to rocking side to side in the soft snow.
When it’s below zero these Rossi NNN boots are cold. My toes won’t warm up all day. So I cut up an old neoprene wetsuit and made full overboot covers. They add a lot of insulation. There’s also commercial versions available for about $60.
Hope that helps!
Revisiting this excellent post in anticipation of the upcoming winter. It’s been 20+ years since I owned a pair of leather boots (Scarpa Fitzroys). I recall the break-in period being hell. I very gladly switched to trail runners for all of my backpacking. And yet, here I am looking at the Crispis, to use with Asnes skis for single day trips and multi-day trips where I may well be using a Paris Expedition pulk setup.
A couple of questions for you, Andrew. Do you ever find the Crispi Antarctics too warm for use when ski touring here in Colorado? I think they would be the better option vs the Mountains 90%+ of the time, but I also know I’ve suffered wearing too warm a hiking boot in three season use in the past. I understand the difference in stiffness and ease of turning. This is really about comfort as it pertains to warmth. I recall your pruned feet pic in Alaska, although I think that was a function of how wet the snow was vs. how cold the temps were (or weren’t).
Secondly, do you have any experience with ski touring using a pulk, and specifically what demands that puts on a Nordic BC ski? Overall the Asnes Nansen looks like the best allround option in their model lineup, but it might be more challenging to use with the pulk in tow vs. the Amundsen Expedition.
Thanks in advance.
1. My extremities tend to run cold, so the extra warmth of the Antarctics has never been a problem. The macerated feet in Alaska (where I wore the Mountains, BTW) were due to wet snowpack, not overheating feet.
2. I would talk to Neptune about the differences in the skis. When you buy stuff from there, you are partly paying for the excellent service they provide.
I am currently skiing on the same boot/binding setup (Crispi Antarctics and Voile 3-pins), and getting ready for the AMWSC in the Brooks Range. I’m working on finding a solution for overflow situations and curious to hear your experience with this. It seems some people just deal with wet boots, and others cut out the bottom of a Neo overboot and glue it onto the rand of their ski boot, but they are all using NNNBC and Dynafit toe pieces, which have a different connection to the binding.
I would prefer to not permanently glue anything to my boots, but also recognize the consequences of not doing anything. I’ve been through minor overflow with no problems, but the major stuff I encountered soaked my Crispis through (although I was able to dry out at a cabin that night, which I will not have the luxury of on the Classic.
Thankfully I didn’t encounter much overflow on my trip, so any “solution” I offer is not field-tested.
Before I left I attached 40 Below overboots (less the sole) to my ski boots, in order to better handle the really frigid cold at the start (-25 below). I used Velcro around the perimeter. It works until it was warm enough to take off the overboots, and the Velcro attracted snowballs.
Honestly, I would give thought to finding some plastic boots and tech bindings. Leather is really problematic when it gets wet.
Cool setup! I was just wondering if you made that metal plate on the BD skins yourself or if you purchased it somewhere? I’m looking to have kick-zone skins on my BC XC skis similar to this. Thanks!
Those BD skins are stock
I have a question about ski selection, or recommendations if you have any.
My boot and binding choices are dictated by arthritis in my feet that require a rigid boot (so I have to go the expensive AT route).
I live in Colorado and will be using this setup to tour around on closed forest roads and meadows. I don’t want the hassle of skins, so probably fish scale skis since my outings will be an hour or so most of the time, and the efficiency of wax based isn’t super important to me. I’ll probably use the heel pieces so I can theoretically ski down longer or steeper slopes without destroying myself.
Anyways. No groomed snow.
What skis would you suggest.
If you only described to me the terrain that you plan to be on, I’d immediately point you to backcountry Nordic skis, with similar specs to what I own now or what I used in Alaska (another Asnes ski, slightly narrower and less side cut). They’ll track well for straight lines, and the little bit of side cut will help you with the limited turns you’ll make.
I’m not intimately familiar with what skis are currently available in this category. But I know the first place I’d visit if I wanted to see a good selection, Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder. You could also call them.
Incredible thread of details thank for documenting. I was choosing and have setup a new system based on your video and the many comments and will put together a first attempt with all the comments with solid info and have a great trip due to your sharing and because of you replying to so many added a great deal more.
Hi Andrew. I had wanted to get into Alpine Touring, but am not yet ready to pay the high price for the initial set up (not to mention the avalanche courses and safety gear). I’ve been looking into cross country backcountry touring skis as an alternative. Having only cross-country skied once, my question is: Quantitatively, what sort of vertical is a good backcountry cross-country ski (e.g. 80-60-70mm, metal-edged) able to handle? I’m just trying to wrap my head around what sort of terrain these might be acceptable on. Thanks so much.
It largely depends on your skiing skills. Someone was really good can ski hard stuff on skis like this, they did it for decades before modern skis. But a newer skier will struggle to do much more than rolling terrain and mostly straight trails.
Thank you for this article. I just purchased NNN BC boots/bindings and Rossignol Positrack 80 BC skiis. My hope is I can do some off trail woods exploration, ski early season nordic trails that have not been packed or track set yet, and maybe even do some short overnight trips pulling a pulk.
Some of the trails I’d like to ski in the winter on these are packed down by snowmobiles. In the past I have been skiing these in normal edgeless XC skis with normal NNN setup, and it doesnt work great but I get around. I find the lack of control on edgeless XC skiis terrifying. I am looking forward to the extra control of metal edges and the extra float when breaking trail.
If the setup doesnt prove to be robust enough I will consider a 3 pin setup on the Rossignol BC 80 skiis, or determine if I might need to go to a wider ski as well.
I hope I didnt make a mistake with the NNN BC option, but I guess one doesnt fully know what is best until they try it.
Is it the auto or manual? Manual is not at all a bad option, top end
ski manufacturer Åsnes recommends it for their skis. Many/most people skiing the 800 miles “Vita bandet” traverse through the Swedish mountain range seem to use BC manual from what I have seen. I suspect auto has given BC much of the bad reputation in the states, when I read something bad about icing up it is almost never mentioned which of them. As stated above the auto is more prone to icing and is not recommended for multi day trips
Hey Andrew. Great article.
My question: Do you scrape off your kick wax when putting on a kicker skin?
In the past I have had trouble with the kick wax fouling up the skin glue so it will no longer stick.
I might give it a quick scrape if I put on the wax recently. But it tends to get rubbed off by abrasion or melted into the base, so I don’t feel like there’s much wax to get on the skin. My skins seemed to have more problems with forest litter (e.g. needles) and clumping snow than wax.
NNN BC bindings are just fine for long flat to rolling tours (but to hut Norway, etc.). The binding system works great for Spring tours in the steeper Sierra terrain, too, but it takes years to learn the necessary telemark turn skills! You also have to use a quality boot— cheap NNN BC boots will self destruct (soles crack). ‘Alfa’ boots from Norway are the gold standard. But the Alpina ‘Alaska’ NNN boot might be good too. I can telemark perfectly well with NNN BC boots and bindings if snow conditions are good, but when conditions are going to be less favorable and descents long and steep, I use 3 pin bindings, plastic T3 or T2 boots, and metal edged single camber ‘skinny’ skis. But I am an outlier in the Sierra these days— almost all other backcountry skiers sport AT gear. In many ways AT gear is superior, but the buy-in costs can be quite high. If I were starting out, I would look for a used AT set-up and avoid the whole skinny ski thing… unless, of course, you enjoy a rather long learning curve!