To summarize and build upon my review of the 125 prototypes I skied last year: there is a domain of skiing between alpine backcountry and nordic skiing which is as of yet poorly served by the marketplace, and the Altai Hok might be the best fit yet for many people’s needs in this category. Controversy concerning the suitability of the Hok and the skis which will come after it has thus far been based more on elitism and fundamental misapprehension of the skiing for which it is intended than on it’s merits, or the lack thereof. In years to come I look forward to more skis in this category.
145 Hok, Marquette BC, 185 Guide; back before we had snow.
Nordic skis are quite remarkable these days. I’ve spent a lot more time on them this winter, and overall they’re a quite refined way of moving over gentle, snowy terrain. The problematic, thus far largely inverse relationship between grip and glide is being worked out, but overall if you need to get somewhere in winter and it’s pretty flat, your needs are served. The same is increasingly the case for mountainous terrain. The slowly building tech binding revolution is finally nearing its apex as rando race technology is beginning to trickle back down into gear more suited for varied terrain and skiers of less than commensurate aptitude. The fact that races like the Grand Traverse are being won on rando gear is more a sign of the until-recent backwardness of alpine gear than the omniscient superiority of contemporary rando race stuff (as well as the continued domination of a certain county in CO, irrespective of binding). The Grand is an alpine race, even though modern sensibility has a hard time accepting “flat” as part of alpine backcountry skiing. In a few years, the range of light, truly backcountry (ie not merely race) alpine gear should be pretty breathtaking.
But there’s a third sort of skiing which is ill served by either of the above paradigms: it combines the AtoBness of nordic with some of the technical demands of backcountry alpine. It takes place quite literally between the two; in the narrow wooded valleys and paths above the frozen lakes, meadows, and rivers of nordic skiing, and below the alpine terrain that gives that genre its name. Skiing in this zone can be a pain in the ass, and because of the rough terrain, lack of gear suited to it, and utter lack of sexiness this genre is neglected and ignored by many skiers. Passed through hurriedly (and with skins on for the descent) by alpiners, poked into occasionally and with trepidation by all but the skilled nordic technicians, or simply left to the snowshoers. The Hok tries to ideally suit this sort of skiing, and depending on your proclivities and locale you either grasp the need or not.
In an era in which the seriousness of skiing in avalanche terrain is beginning to be given full shrift, I think the market for such gear will only increase.
The 145 Hok is 3 pounds 4 oz a ski as pictured above: with Voile Mountaineer, Rottefella heel piece, anti-ice tape, and factory stainless bolts. This ski is a bit different than the 125 I used last year, and deserves new thoughts. It seems a bit softer, both lengthwise and torsionally. The edges came rather on the dull side, and this combination means that as stock they don’t hold an edge on ice as well as they could. Sharpening the edges helps a lot. According to some reports the skinsert on the 145 and 125 is the same dimension, curious, but understandable w/r/t economics. Having used the two so far apart, I can’t honestly say if one climbs better than the other. I can say that heel lifts are a waste on the Hok, as the short skinsert does limit traction to modest (less than 15-20 degree) angles of ascent (caveat emptor: snow composition makes a massive difference in grip with all scales and skins). Bases are extruded, and seem middle of the road as far as durability goes. Thus far skinsert durability is fine. The metal edges end before the wrap of the tip and tail begins, which necessarily exposes both to rock hits and abrasion from the others skis edge. This is already quite visible, and will at some point in the future require epoxy as reinforcement. I’d like to see edges much closer to full wrap.
As can be seen above the inserts put the boot center darn close to cord center (varies depending on shoe size). I was skeptical at first, but the extra tail provides flotation where it is needed most, especially with a pack on, and does not noticeably affect the ability to cut turns.
Little things are central to how well the Hoks work; specifically the gentle sidecut and subtle tip (below) and tail (above) rocker. Both photos are taken with the skis under compression (cinched emphatically with a ski strap).
The relatively straight profile helps the Hok track well despite the modest length, and the shortness enhances the great ability to skid and smear, provided by the tip and tail design. It’s important to emphasize that length is secondary to shape in this regard. Narrow, treed trails and funky snow demand quick pivots for safety, and the Hoks deliver.
In short, they’re optimized for efficiency in trail breaking, rather than glide on packed snow, and for ease of use, especially in tight places. They’re short and light enough to carry easily. Pair them with heavy leather/pleather or light plastic boots, appropriate bindings, some cheap nordic poles, and skin wax and that is all you’ll need for off-track backcountry touring below the avalanche line. All for significantly less than the cost of alpine backcountry boots.
They’ll suit a large number of people very well, and interest many more not at all. As it should be.
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