’13-’14 ski stuff review

IMG_2720Big Mountain summit @ 3pm on a Saturday, with -40 windchill.

It’s been a great winter for snow sports.  In addition to my fatbike, I’ve been using two separate ski rigs since things got going in earnest after Christmas.  All the modes of transit have been used a lot, often competing for attention, and almost always providing one option well suited to the conditions of the day.

My AT rig, shown above, is 176cm Black Diamond Current skis, with Plum 145 race bindings, and LaSportiva Sideral boots.  As a quiver of one for my not especially rigorous uses, this amalgamation has been quite satisfactory.

My skis are heavier than the new version of the Currents, and not particularly light by modern standards.  What they are is extreme predictable and confidence inspiring in difficult snow.  NW Montana has had lots of powder in the last two months, but we’ve also had lots of wind-hammered weirdness.  The Currents hold an edge on icey hardpack, and bust through curd and sastrugi just fine if I do my part.  The hardest part of my transition to these skis was learning that they reward a lot of forward pressure; keep your technique good in more difficult conditions, and you’ll do well.  Of course, they do fine in powder too.  If the extra weight gives me more stability in certain conditions, and more durability long term (they’ve held up very well thus far), I’m willing to carry it.

The Siderals have continued to impress.  They’re light(ish), walk great, and since I got the sixth toes punched a bit by the folks at RMO have been multi-day comfortable.  I still wish the liner was thicker, and find the lower buckles tendency to flip up while boot packing annoying, but I can live with those.  Upgrades for next winter will include new liners and hopefully replacement buckles.

The Plum 145s have also been solid performers.  They’re exceptionally elegant in both appearance and design, and shamelessly efficient for their intended purpose.  Contrary to some claims, tech bindings won’t help you walk on water, but they match so well with skinning that if it is something you do often, you need to get a light tech rig.  Necessity is right up there with tubeless mountain bike tires in the southwest or a Werner paddle for your packraft: expensive, but you deserve and will not regret for a minute.  I actually managed to break a heel piece last month, but that was my fault.  Back in the spring I was heating a screw to swap the bindings to my then new Currents, got lazy, and let the soldering iron melt a bit of the plastic housing.  Oops.  Finally, a particularly violent fall and vertical release put enough pressure on the steel fork and the weakened bit of plastic popped right off.  My AT was out of commision for a few weeks, handily during the worst avy cycle in living memory.  Plum in France sold me a replacement set at a very generous discount, especially considering they shipped them FedEx express, which took 48 hours from Thyez to Whitefish.  So now I’ve got a spare heel piece and a fair degree of loyalty to Plum.

That crash was one of two, hard vertical releases I’ve had this winter.  The second was a clumsy, low light plow straight into a pile of avy debris.  In both occasions I released right about where I’d want to, for safety purposes.  It seems that the 145s inherent, nonadjustable setting and my ~185 pounds (including clothing and pack) work well together.

IMG_2538

IMG_2541

 

I purchased BD mohair skins for these, and had a bit of troubled.  I dremeled in a skin notch and went with the left rig, above, but that let in too much snow, which led to a bunch of at least partial skin failures.  I bought a BD tail kit, and redid the skin with a Climbing Skins Direct tip loop, as per right and these instructions.  Much better.  Ideally, you’ll have two sets of skins for your skis, a full coverage set in the McLean fashion, and a skinnier, race style rig with a tip bungee only.  The BD mohair works fine, and is very packable, but I’m not convinced the cost is worth it, and the CSD plush seems to glide almost as well after break-in.

 

My nordic rig has been a pair of 179cm Fischer Outbound Crowns (70-60-65, sintered base with a routered-in negative pattern), Voile Mountaineers, and Rossi BCX12 boots.

The skis I found for 50 dollars at a swap this past fall, which is nice for when you have to ski across the occasional dirt patch. They’re fast, light, and do every well. Longer would be faster in set tracks, but I’ll take the speed penalty in order to have them be more maneuverable in the woods. Nordic skis takes such a beating on multi-day trips that I’m perfectly willing to compromise performance metrics in the name of buying used.

Voile Mountaineers are Voile Mountaineers; simple, solid, dependable. I buy used or on-sale ones whenever I see them.

The BCX12s I’ve gotten sorted out, finally. I was having issues with the outer cuffs rubbing my lower legs. Dremeling off a centimeter seems to have done the trick on that issue. Otherwise, the BCX12s have been comfortable, waterproof, and supportive enough. Compared to the previous iteration they have even more range of motion fore and aft. Indeed, they have almost no resistance at all in either direction. Paired with the quite rigid carbon cuff, it makes for an odd blend. They’re great nordic backcountry boots, in that they combine excellent touring freedom with good edge control, but they will do nothing to keep you off your butt if you get thrown backwards. They are not an XCD boot by any stretch of the imagination.

Noteably absent is any middle-ground in between nordic and AT. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve improved enough that I can ski a lot of wooded stuff on my nordic gear. Part of it is that I pick routes in different ways. Part of it is that the boots simply aren’t there, and thus I gave on the genre, at least temporarily.

Over the years I’ve learned the skiing is a discipline. It’s a lot more like hunting than it is like mountain biking. External forces are always a moving target, and while there is only so much you can do to adapt to those conditions, a lifetime is not enough for sufficient practice. The most important thing is to have functional tools when the snow flies, and get out in it.

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