Marquette Backcountry ski review

Are the Marquette’s real skis?

In many ways this is the central question, because the answer dictates the criteria against which they are judged. If we take them at the face value of the marketing schtick (70% ski, 30% snowshoe, 100% fun) success only calls for an idiosyncratic and fun tool for bushwhacking. The performance demands of a real ski, however, are much more acute and multifaceted.

In many ways, I’d rather that they weren’t real skis.  All too often, real skiers suck.  Backcountry skiing is a kineasethically beautiful, multifaceted, dangerous sport whose long learning curve should be respected.  It’s also fraught with elitism, zenophobia (I can’t show you my secret stash!), and very expensive gear.  Anything that gets more people affordably out beyond the lifts and groomed tracks, and as a bonus twists the tail of established wisdom, is a very good thing.  Unforunately, evidence is accumulating that the Marquette BC ski might be a real ski after all:

My Marquette setup hasn’t changed. I do think that a good two buckle tele boot is the minimum to drive the ski for turning. It’s short, which helps, but 130mm is a lot to get on edge when you aren’t in 8″ of fresh.

The backyard adventure ski

This is the application for which the Marquette’s were originally designed, and is well addressed in the Universal Klister review. The width, short length, rockered nose, and plastic construction (not so big a deal to hit rocks and stratch the bases) make short little slopes and hills with a minimal amount of snow and no base not only skiable, but dead fun. Early this month, before the rain and ice, I had a blast hitting up the area parks before work, getting in a couple thousand vertical before work with a short drive. This niche will get new skiers into the backcountry, and allow established skiers to ski new terrain. No avy danger, minimal gear required, no hassle. As a backyard adventure ski the Marquettes get an A+.

The fast shoe

Snowshoes are slow and inefficient. Their sole virtue, other than packability, is the paucity of skills needed to pilot them.  Alter your stride and pay a little more attention going downhill and you’re all set.  The Marquettes are in many circumstances better at snowshoeing than snowshoes, but a straight substitute they are not.  As grippy as the fishscales are, they are still like all patterned bases limited by snow type (the drier and fluffier the less grip), and require technique to use effectively.  The Marquettes slide slow, but they still slide, and thus require turning and stopping skills to use safely.  They aren’t a substitude, more of a gateway drug to proper snow travel, and thus a pretty good fast shoe.

The real ski

Are the Marquettes a real ski?  Maybe not, but they sure do a good job pretending.  The lack of metal edges is a serious downside; besides the annoying but trivial lack of grip on wood when crossing deadfall, they are not an appropriate tool for ice.  But I’m hard pressed to think of many ski days (outside full on spring conditions) when full on ice was encountered.  For most touring for turns days, thus isn’t a substantive issue.

They do hold well enough on merely firm snow, though because of the width a decent boot and some commited technique is required.  Their real strength is of course in float and maneuverability, the ability to stay on top in powder, crud, and other bad snow, their super short stopping distance and turn radius, and their ability to slarve through deep snow and tight places.  The length sacrifices stability at speed, but much less than you’d think; and if you’re of the school that mach-schnell might not be the wisest choice in the BC anyway, this ceases to be an issue.

What is often an issue, at least when BC skiing in North America, are trees and singletrack exits.  Tough stuff, terrain which reliably turns a mundane, easy tour into something far exceeding a double black run in technicality and consequences.  The Marquettes make this stuff much, much easier.

So yeah, they’re real skis.

The wilderness adventure tool

The idea of a short, fat, light ski is a good one for wilderness travel far away from broken trails.  For my height and flexibility, 150cm is the dividing line between when skis cease to feel like skis.  At 150 and shorter, kick turns are a non-issue in any circumstances, and hearingboning up short pitches easy and efficient.  The tracking and gliding abilities of long skis looses relevance in deep snow, and the Marquettes are superlative trail breakers.  Add in the aggressive fishscales and maneuverability in difficult conditions, and you have a good wilderness tool in the making.

Unfortunately, the Marquettes are heavy.  A bit north of 4.5 lbs a ski, or close to 2 lbs a ski heavier than my 185cm Guides.  Durable, light, cheap: pick two.  A serious, and for serious miles, deal breaking drawback.

Conclusions

A great concept, well executed, with a far great range of applicability than is at first evident.

It could be improved by:making it lighter (without sacrificing durability), making the shovel and tail flex easier than the middle of the ski.

It’s not for everyone, but I’m pretty sure most will find it very fun and highly useful.

[10/18/12 update: I stand by everything I said above, and should note that the skis proved impressively durable over several seasons of rough use.  Recently I passed them on to another user, not because they don't work well or don't have a place, but because they are just too heavy, and my interested drifted further and further into the BC.  Still highly recommended if they suit you.]

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18 thoughts on “Marquette Backcountry ski review

  1. Thanks for your comments. I was very close to buying a pair of these for spring travel (when you carry them half of the time). Unfortunately, the weight is a deal breaker. Too bad because the price is right and the design looks solid. Plus, I like the fact that they are made in the U. S. Obviously, for winter travel (which is what they were designed for) they are pretty good and a great value. I’m curious as to how well they glide on the flats. Did you get a chance to try some stride and glide with them?

  2. Thanks, I appreciate the response. I don’t know if you saw these:
    http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/68748?page=boreal-sliding-snowshoes-set
    I’m not sure how well they would glide either.

    Actually, I’ve had trouble using Berwin bindings by themselves. If used with stiff shoes (which they recommend against) then you don’t get enough flexibility for gliding. If used with soft shoes, it is hard to control. If you place them on top of a hinge (along with a block of wood in between and a bumper in front) you can get good glide and good control going down.

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  4. I use system bindings ,Fischer BC-x6 and Alpina Trackers and Woddys on flatter and rolling hills fireroads. I have a chance to tour for turns,7-10 miles in and an hour climbing for 3000′ would these be a good learning tool? Could they handle the tour? Im new to XC skiing and Backcountry skiing. Im also considering Alpina Lite Terrains, Atomic Rainers and Karhu XCD-GT’s.

    • Hi John. Between the weight and poor glide the Marquettes would be rather slow on that approach. They are a great learning tool for skiing powder and funky snow.

      You’re facing the classic BC skiing bind: less ski to be faster on the flats, or more ski to be faster for turns. The three you listed aren’t that different from your existing setup, a three pin rig with bigger boots and a ski like the Annum or Rossi BC 125 might provide a wider quiver, and more power for turns, while still being decent on those fireroads. For the trip you’re describing, I’d bring my Guides and light plastic boots.

  5. I’m an Ice Climber/mountaineer that hates to ski. The reason? For my pack and body weight, I need long boards that are hard to control. I dropped $1K on boots, ski’s, and bindings a few years ago, tried AT type skiing and didn’t go for it. I like snowshoes for reasons mentioned (easy to learn, little technique needed) but they are SLOW and I hate summiting, and looking down a nice schoot and thinking, “I have to walk down this?! Any BC skier would give their front teeth for this chance, and I’d like to be back at the car in an hour not 5.” I’m not excited about lugging two pairs of boots into the backcountry (Ski boots and Ice/Mountaineering boots) so I’d like to get some bindings that are step in crampon compatible, like the Silvretta 500′s. Will they mount to this type of ski/shoe/ thing?

    • Kevin, they won’t take a Silvretta. You wouldn’t want to on the Marquettes anyway; they’re too heavy and lack the metal edges needed for variable conditions.

      You are on to something though, a shorter and fatter ski will still give you float and be more manuverable and easier to pack up climbs. Hagan makes a few short approach designed for exactly what you’re doing.

  6. I agree, Kevin. Dave is the expert, but that was my guess as well. The Hok (mentioned on this site here http://bedrockandparadox.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/tools-choices/ as well as a few other times) might make a better choice. You might talk to the folks that make the Hok (http://www.altaiskis.com/blog/) to see if a binding could fit your boot choice. If you are on easier terrain, you might consider hiking in ski boots. I discussed the pros and cons of an universal binding versus hiking in ski boots on a different forum — http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7991770. I mentioned my brothers custom universal bindings (you can find a link in that discussion) but the other guy said his ski boots were as comfortable as many mountaineer boots. I don’t know how well they would work for ice/alpine climbing, though.

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  8. Hi – It sounds like these skis would be pretty good for some backyard downhill skiing. Last winter, I bought a cheap Whitewoods XC set but was a bit frustrated trying to turn them as the skis don’t have any edges. I was wondering if I can use my existing Whitewoods NNN boots with the Marquettes for some easy downhill runs (no super aggressive turns)? Telemark boots/bindings seem pretty expensive, especially for someone in Virginia who won’t get a ton of use out of them… Thanks.

    • Dave O was talking about making the new Marquettes with some NNN inserts. I’d call and ask if that is available yet. If so, no problem. Inserts make mounting dead easy.

      The boots are a trickier matter. If your Whitewoods are on the lighter side you might do ok kicking around and in perfect light powder, but for more difficult conditions and precise skiing the Marquettes are wide enough to really demand a plastic boot.

  9. As a smaller female I found these skis heavy and cumbersome/difficult to turn even with a 3pin and a T3 boot. The guys I tele lap with sometimes use icelantic scouts with skins. North Midwest so mix of snow and conditions. Any thoughts or reviews of gals using the 125 hok? Seem similar to the older Karhu meta which they don’t make anymore. Thanks.

    • Depending on the vintage, T3s might be too little boot for a smaller skier, though the Marquettes are heavy no matter what. The Hoks are more turnable, but because of the skinsert and the forward mount (at least on last years) aren’t a good option for turn-oriented skiing.

      If you want something short and very quick, one of the shorter rockered BC skis is probably the best option. Voile makes the Charger in 154, and made the Drifter in 162 (if you can find one, no longer made).

      • Dave, great advice to many here, so i thought I’d see what you think for my situation.
        me: alpine skier, 25 yrs instructor, psialevel3, looking for fun back yard set up. Rolling hills, topping out w/ some pitch.
        I’ve skied some AT set ups over the years, and want something less turn oriented, and more cruise. I was looking at a light AT setup, garmont literiders, dynafit and rossi bc125 in a 175. seems light, somewhat fat w/ scales could be fun. My hold up is that dynafits can’t go back on forth easy on rolling terrian. so I also thought a 3 buckle teleboot w/ this ski would be fun, and even though I don’t tele, could be fun to make alpine turns on,
        but,
        this ski seems interesting. pics show it with tele boots making a great alpine turn, and looks fun to tour on. What do you think of this vs the light AT set up?
        thx!
        wade

        • Different tools for very different purposes. A light AT rig is perfect for big ups and big downs. In rolling terrain the mode switch factor gets a bit annoying. A short, fat ski with a light tele rig is perfect for bushwacking and hacking around in terrain with lots of short hills. The Marquettes are perfect for a smaller subset of the same thing, namely terrain where you really want to be able to turn fast. The lack of metal edges is also nice for thin terrain, in that they don’t snag on rocks and logs like metal edges. The downside is their considerable weight. I you don’t plan to go far or too fast, it shouldn’t be an issue.

          • Thanks Dave!
            I got the AT setup as it was great deal. Still thinking this ski w/ a moderate tele boot would be super fun for out the backyard tromps. looking for a fun workout more then speed.
            W

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