Karhu Guide ski review

ExecSum: This neo-classic ski, currently living after the demise of Karhu as the Madshus Annum, is the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, master of none.  If you want one ski that will work for 40 degree powder fields, 20 miles of rolling trail breaking, and everything in between, this is the ski.

The facts: My Guides are 185 cm.  I’ve owned them since February of 2009.  I’ve skied them a lot: long rolling tours on untracked terrain, multi-day trips, double black terrain both in resorts and in the backcountry.  I mounted Voile Mountaineers (heavy-duty 3 pin bindings) on 15mm G3 risers, on the factory recommended pin line, and haven’t played around with that original job.  Initially I used Alpina BC 2075 plastic/leather boots, but the vast majority of skiing on them has been with a pair of older, softer blue T2 plastic boots which I’ve modified to make lighter and softer (cut off the lean lock, cut down the cuff, made the tongue softer).

Madshus’ claimed weight for the Annum is right in line with my skis, 5.7 lbs for the pair in 185.  Very light for a 109-78-95 ski.

Assessment: I call the Guide a neo-classic because I think it will eventually be seen as the originator of a new category of skis, all-around BC touring skis.  The Guide took the attributes of Karhu’s long-standing XCD (cross country downhill) series of skis and stretched them to the point that a new category is in order.  The Guide’s width is only skinny by contemporary powder-ski standards, and when combined with the Guide’s substantial single camber (seen above, uncompressed), creates a ski that can turn down truly difficult terrain, break trail, and make miles.

The width, robust single camber, fishscale base, and light weight have been the focus of attention for most of the Guide’s life, because they were such a unique combination.  Now in the Rossignol BC125 the Guide has been surpassed in dimension, and hopefully more attention can be paid to the Guide’s design, which is very well thought out.

The Guide doesn’t have much sidecut, by alpine standards.  It has a big shovel, and the tip is quite soft (flex-wise).  The result it excellent float and soft-snow performance, be in downhill, uphill, or on the flats.  In truly soft snow conditions the Guide may be one of the more efficient trail breakers around, being wide enough to float well, and still quite light.  The back end of the ski has even less sidecut, a feature which serves two distinct and important ends.  First, the relative lack of sidecut lets the Guide track very well for a ski of its girth.  Second, the pin tail (and the rounded tail tip) lets the tail be dragged quickly around for smear turns, a crucial feature in tight trees or when descending narrow roads and trails when speed must be scrubbed ASAP.  The more I ski the Guides in varied terrain, the more I appreciate the utility of the sidecut and flex pattern.

The Guide does have shortcomings.  Such a large, light ski will inevitably, in the absence of expensive space age materials, lack both edge hold and dampness.  The Guide gets kicked around by hard debris, and while it can hold on edge on frozen snowmobile tracks, requires some consequential body english to do so.

The light bindings and boots which match best this skis versatile nature compound those problems, but not in ways which I find unsafe, or overly problematic.  Folks have skied the Guides with everything from NTN to Dynafit, but I like the simple, bomber and cheap Mountaineer binding.  The low risers prevent binding drag on hard snow, and the anti-ice tape (plastic sticker on the binding) keeps snow from being compressed into ice.  I went until last spring without anti-ice tapes, which was pure folly.  They’re impressively effective, a must have accessory.

On the whole, I think the Guide is a great design and a fantastic value.  Keep its limitations in mind (skiing steep stuff and bad snow is much like riding a rigid bike on technical terrain) and you’ll not be disappointed.

10/2012 update:  The Guides endure, and never fail to get used a ton no matter what each winter brings.  I stripped off the risers for ’10/’11 and didn’t miss them at all.  As of this writing they are in the garage, mounted with Plum 145 tech bindings, waiting for snow.  Check the trackbacks for thoughts on use with Dynafits.

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20 thoughts on “Karhu Guide ski review

  1. Nice and timely review. I’m really close to pulling the trigger on some F1’s and TLT’s to get into my first winter of UL touring. Considering getting a pair of waxless touring skis instead of mounting on some “light” downhill skis which will require wax. Another $200 bucks is hard to justify right now on top of the stupid price of the F1’s, but come spring, I bet I’ll be looking for a more versatile ski, and I”m sure I’ll refer to this writeup again…

    1. Waxless v. not is a choice of consequence. In light snow patterns are useless, you’ll need kick wax or skins anyway. You can kick wax the tips and tails of a ski like the Guide, but that’s not as effective as kick wax in the wax pocket. Getting kick wax out of the pattern is not fun, and requires a hot iron.

      On the other hand patterns rule in spring snow, and having that resource for cruising and flat approaches is nice to have. It suits a lot of the backcountry skiing people do, which is why it’s a growing market segment. Of course, the dominant paradigm would have you sled the flats, in which case this sort of ski is indeed less than ideal.

      Patterned bases, especially positive (stick up above the flat parts) ones like the Karhu/Madshus), do drag a lot. These skis are noticeably slower the traditional downhill skis on groomers and well trodden snowmobile tracks. I don’t find that a big deal. Others do.

  2. Sure, this ski might work for you and thats great but at least acknowledge that the design is wicked old and out dated.

    “heavy-duty 3 pin bindings”…oxymoron.

    “5.7 lbs for the pair in 185″…for what they are this is heavy.

    “I think it will eventually be seen as the originator of a new category of skis, all-around BC touring skis”…already have this category and this ski setup is not it.

    “The Guide took the attributes of Karhu’s long-standing XCD (cross country downhill) series of skis”…thats exactly what they are; burely cross country skis.

    “creates a ski that can turn down truly difficult terrain, break trail, and make miles”…you obvisouly haven’t been on newer equipment.

    “because they were such a unique combination”…read weird comnination.

    “It has a big shovel”…hardly.

    “being wide enough to float well”…have you been in 30inches of new with this ski? Try it…

    “lets the tail be dragged quickly around for smear turns”…As a self-stated intermediate skier, we obviously have different opinions on what a smear turn is. Have you skied a rockered ski?

    “Such a large, light ski…” Please…call a spade a spade man.

    “while it can hold on edge on frozen snowmobile tracks”…seriously? That a criteria in your review?

    “The light bindings and boots which match best this skis versatile nature compound those problems, but not in ways which I find unsafe”..these skis have blown knee written all over them. You can’t see that?

    Just admit you have very limited experience with a range of ski gear that this review can be put in perspective.

    1. Scott, it seems that we are operating from rather different perspectives. The Guide/Annum and the gear I use is far from cutting edge. Compared to modern fat, rockered skis, or rando race gear (both with Dynafits of course), such gear leaves much to be desired. In certain circumstances. In other circumstances modern AT gear leaves plenty to be desired.

      I refer you to my reply to Mark, below.

  3. Interesting post. I’d like to get into backcountry skiing, as I find Nordic skiing (in tracks) rather dull, so thanks for the summary of these. I didn’t understand everything you wrote however, not being versed in ski jargon. Consequential body english?? If Scott thinks you’re behind the times, I’m positively prehistoric.

    1. Mark, my presumption behind writing this (and just about everything I’ve written about skiing and ski gear) is that there are a lot of folks like me: I find nordic skiing on tracks boring, and am interested in more than just cranking turns on a big face (though that can be pretty great). There is gear that works for this, but for a new skier finding out what does work isn’t very simple. I hope to use my experiments over the last two years to help others out.

      You might find this extensive post from a few months back of interest: https://bedrockandparadox.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/ski-gear-for-backcountry-traverses/

      Scott might as well, if for different reasons.

  4. Dave. I really dug your post weeks and weeks back about gear for backcountry ski traverses. I’ve got plans to get out into some Colorado wilderness areas myself this winter, but wanted to do a bit more reading to cure my curiosity. Are there any forums or specific websites that you frequent that are dealing with the UL and adventuresome side of touring (not tele…)?

    1. Telemarktips.com and its forum is officially tele specifc, but the discussion varies widely, and “rugged touring” gear comes up quite a lot.

  5. Guides are in many skier’s quivers in Alaska. But it seems unless you are a really good skier it’s easy to get into trouble with them.. read – long ass spring tour to do a big chute. Sure they are nice getting there but I’ve seen carnage and cursing on the descents. So you might as well be on some Manalu’s.
    I think their ideal terrain are hut trips with lots of flat but you still want to ski some mellow pow laps.

    1. I think many people are getting confused here. A skis performance is not necessarily based on what features the ski or binding has, its about how good the rider is.

      The video link on youtube below is with a guy using scarpa t4s and hes riding karhu guides. He is pretty much shooting all you nay sayers down.. shot down hard.

  6. Just a note to say thanks for the review. As a result I have ordered the Madshus Annum because I think that the type of skiing that you describe them as being best for is pretty much the kind I will be doing as well. Erik from Alaska has confirmed that as well with his comment. I will let you know how well they work for Northwest BC.

    1. Jenn, I think they’ll be a fun piece of gear. I agree with Eric, their biggest weaknesses are on steep, hard, funky snow. Unavoidable on many routes, but not very fun to ski under almost any circumstances. Know their limits and you’ll be fine.

  7. Update: I pulled off the risers and moved the bindings 15mm back from the recommended mount point. Much, much better for turning that way, with no loss of touring function.

  8. Thanks for the write up, man. I’m really tempted to get a pair of the relabeled Madshus version of the Guides. I hear someone took them down K2 . . . and yet they aren’t really supposed to be a downhill ski. I really don’t understand how that works, but I’m no ski expert. They sound like a good approach/touring ski for a newb like me. Any good ideas for where to look to find a pair for cheap?

  9. Blue, I bought mine (on a pretty good sale) from Berg’s Ski Shop. REI might also have some. Now is a good time for ski shopping, if you can find the length you want in stock.

  10. I have the guides.We do trails, flats and hills and they are excellent. Haven’t tried deep powder yet but they should work fine. We mounted Freeride pro bindings with Dynafit boots. They all say it cant and shouldn’t be done.Gawd get over all the experts and enjoy yerself. We go up hills that nobody else skis and have fun sliding back down.I dont have to bother with skins. These skis turn so nice we can get a lift and parallel down.If you want 185s you better hurry because they sell out.I would get 195s next time.5.11- 165 pounds.

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