Quantifying skis, and repairing the Trak Bushwacker

Counting ounces is an easy place to loose perspective, and comparing ski weights are a great example of this.  All the common areas of ambiguity loom especially large here, namely that claimed dimensions are often wrong, and that relevant performance rubrics like flex cannot be quantified.  For a recent article I wrote for BackpackingLight (on Tools for Human-Powered Oversnow Travel), I wanted to be able to compare ski weights with a decent degree of accuracy.  Skis weights are very important, both because you’re adding that weight to the ends of your legs where it’ll do the most damage, and because even the lightest ski rigs are very heavy.

I realized quickly that what I wanted was a single number which would represent surface area per unit of weight.  Calculating surface areas of complex shapes is daunting even for someone with a greater grasp of math than my own, and a bit of research turned up no better option than this convenient online tool.  So I use that to give me a figure in square centimeters, divide that by the weight in ounces, drop the units, round to the nearest whole number, and I have a crude but consistent tool for comparing skis across genres and shapes.

You’ll have to read the article to get the whole scoop, but I found an intriguing congruence across all the skis I compared.  The highest tech, carbon skis had the same ratios, and the skis several tiers down (the lightest, all-wood skis) also had the same or similar numbers.  My presumption is that this tells the tale of what currently available technology can do.

For example, take the skis pictured above.  Top to bottom we have the Bushwacker (150, 85/80/83, 40 oz each), Altai Hok (145, 121/109/121, 46 oz each), and the Karhu Guide (185, 109/78/98, 44 oz each).  Their approximate surfaces are, respectively; 1256, 1645, and 1582 square centimeters.  Dividing surface are by weight (per pair, to get smaller numbers), we get whole numbers of 16, 18, and 18.  The best skis in the article got a 24.  It’s not perfect, but it is one more way to look at things.

On to the Bushwackers, another recent ski swap acquisition.  They were in rough shape, with delaminating tails and lots of chips off the edges, and wouldn’t have been worth the 25 dollars I paid for them were not such a unique ski.  They’re wide, almost straight, with a fairly stiff camber and a half, plastic fishscale base (not extruded, actual plastic), and no metal edges at all.  I’m not sure what role they will play, but to get them up and running I worked Gorilla Glue into the tails and clamped while they set over night.  With the excess trimmed off, the tails and many places on the tips and edges got coats of Shoe-Goo for waterproofing.

Now all I need is some snow.

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15 Responses to Quantifying skis, and repairing the Trak Bushwacker

  1. Smokies says:

    Hey Dave…I’m curious as to why you don’t see any of these skis over in Europe, the birthplace of over-snow travel? Thoughts? I have my own but will keep them to myself.

    • DaveC says:

      I can read IP addresses as well. Changing names isn’t such a good way to hide.

      Having never skied in Europe, I cannot begin to answer that question. Jaako has a pair of Hoks, and lives in Europe, so perhaps he’ll come along.

    • Dave says:

      They do have those skis, but they are generally marketed as “forest skis” or “hunting skis”. Usually only hunters buy them; but they’re not particularly popular among recreational users.

      I haven’t skied in Europe either, but I have travelled enough to see the difference.

      It has a lot to do with the terrain. For example, most of Scandinavia is cultivated forests and more similar to the open-country in the West, so skis for “backcountry” there would be examplified by Karhu Jakt Classic and Hunt Classic. But once you start going into the wilderness areas where forests are allowed to grow in its natural state, many hunters prefer Wilmas Snöskoskidan.

      Then when one start going to Siberia, where logging is not as intense, and the forest are denser, you see these weird ski-snowshoe hybrids which are thousands of years old. For some examples see: http://tropa42.ru/skiing.html

      If course, when you start going further south like near the Altai, you start seeing more skis similar to the Hoks which are moderately short and moderately wide. They are like that on purpose: they still have to go to the forests which meant short skis, but the skis need to be narrow enough to compromise for a bit of downhill. But when you start going into the denser areas, preference for very wide and short skis prevail.

      But as far as Western Europe and Central Europe goes? They lost most of their forests during the Medieval when they used up all their woods to make charcoal for metallurgy, and much of the country has been cleared. Also, it’s much more hillier from Baltic and then Poland and Germany sort of rolls into Alps until you one go to Hungary where it gets flat again.

      Scandinavia is really flat though, and the trees are spaced out compared to Canadian boreal or Russian boreal so no wonder why their cross-country skis are in excess of 240cm and their hunting-skis are 160cm. Russians prefer skis that are 90 to 124 cm long. But those who are seeking light and fast transportation usually opt for the longer 200+cm cross-country skis.

      So to paint Europeans as one group is not a very good idea. One would have to consider the demographics and the markets of each of the different types.

  2. korpijaakko says:

    Now that you mentioned it… I did have a test pair of Hok 125s but I’m seriously thinking buying the new 147s. The following is only an uneducated guess:

    There are short skis like Hoks in Finland and has always been but they’ve never been very popular because of the local conditions and history. Back in the days people used one shorter ski with a kicker skin and one longer ski for gliding. I assume shorter skis were also used as pairs in certain chores but for covering long distances very long (around 3 meters) and relatively wide (8cm or so) skis were superior in the conditions we have: gentle hills at best, a lot of flat lakes and marsh/bog/swamp terrain, not very dense woods. And of course people used to travel on the easiest routes possible, something that the modern recreationalist probably isn’t too interested in. Long skis are good in a sense that a large part of the ski will glide on the ready broken trail. If you compare only surface areas (and weights) a square ski might be just as good on paper but think about skiing with them!

    Later there have been shorter skis mostly for hunters who needed an agile way to navigate in the woods now different because of forest industry and ditches dug to drain marshes. Similar have also been used as back ups when traveling with snowmobiles. Karhu Jakt skis have been available long before Hoks and there seem be similar models used more widely in Russia (again mostly by hunters). At the same time recreational skiers either adopted equipment suitable for XC tracks (faster, more “sporty”), Norwegian style steel edged classic telemark skis (for traveling on the fjells) or slightly shortened version of the traditional long skis (army using those has probably a lot to do with the popularity). The classic “fjell skis” used in Norway and Sweden are pretty good (or maybe the best available?) for covering distances on hills with hard snow, above or North of the treeline. I don’t think a shorter ski would work there as well (no need for superior agility but good tracking required). And as our forested wilderness doesn’t really have hills the old long skis still excell there because of they enable good progress in soft snow on the easy terrain.

    For the rest of the Europe I can’t really tell but it’s quite densly populated and in areas with mountains the mountains begin from your front door so there isn’t probably need (or even possibility?) to cover long distances between climbing up (or taking a lift) and enjoying the down hill, thus making more down hill oriented kit more suitable.

    I’m excited about the Hoks as they are a good compromise tool for traveling forested areas, especially in the Southern Finland were the forests have changed because of the forst industry. And I’m not the only one who has notices this. Oh, and as I wrote in my blog, the new Hoks are designed and made in Finland: http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/heads-up-new-altai-hok-fast-shoes/

    • Spelt says:

      Given the original production run was made in China, perhaps I should have waited to pull the trigger on the Hoks. Then again, the two new models sound interesting and in a few years I might be in the market again.

  3. DaveC says:

    I believe the Massif Central gets enough snow for rolling, XCDish tours.

    Those huge forest skis sound very similar to what early trappers, hunters, and park rangers used in Yellowstone (where it is possible to avoid dense forest most of the time).

  4. samh says:

    Nice work on the Bushwhackers repair, Dave. They sound cool. Post some pics of their base when you get out and ski on them.

  5. korpijaakko says:

    Slightly related to the topic and discussion: I got a chance to check the new Altai Kar 147 and Tao XCD skis. More on the blog: http://korpijaakko.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/more-on-the-new-altai-hok-skis/

  6. RossB says:

    With regards to ski weights and surface area, I think there are a couple things going on. The racing industry cares about weight. So skis designed for Rando Racing or skis designed for cross country skiing (skate or classic) will be very light. The skis with impressive surface area to weight ratios seem to fit that description. By the way, the Movement Fish X is especially impressive since it matches the ratio of the cross country ski even though it has metal edges (and the cross country ski doesn’t).

    In general, though, I don’t think most manufacturers care too much about the weight of their skis. For downhill skiing, I don’t think it makes much difference. Since a lot of the skis made for Nordic skiing are similar (if not identical) to downhill skis, the weight is not likely to be a consideration for the manufacturers. This is a shame, since I’ve noticed a huge difference in fatigue when using light (non metal edged) skis versus heavier skis.

  7. Mateo says:

    Came upon this thread while doing background reading for possible 2013/14 gear purchases. The reading below is the best I have come across on the history of the ski and skiing (but I am a newcomer in the area, so there may well be better).

    Huntsford, Roland. Two planks and a passion: the dramatic history of skiing. London: Continuum, 2008.

  8. kjellkod says:

    Awesome thread with lots of information. Thanks for sharing true links.

  9. George Rudolph

    Have used Trak Bushwhackers with full fishscale bottoms for many years in the Oregon Cascade mountains backpacking. The easiest, safest ski for mountain travel ever made. No Matter how steep or difficult the terrain. The Trak fishscale bottom is superior to the Altai Bok synthetic partial skin

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