Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Mt-Bike of Skis! --Today's Great New Gear

Some folks think that top-shelf XC ski gear is fragile and expensive. You don't want to scratch the bases. And you need pricey, toxic fluoro waxes. Well, that's just for one exotic kind of skiing: groomed race-course "roadie" type skiing. This kind of skiing hasn't changed much in decades.

By contrast, the much-bigger part of the Nordic ski world of "anywhere there's snow" has seen huge advances in quality and function in recent years. But none of this has been promoted in the USA.

The biggest territory for skiing is anywhere there's snow. Fields, trails, frozen waterways, ski areas. It's all good. But in much of the USA there aren't very many XC ski areas or groomed courses compared to all the acreage of forest and field. There's a lot of undeveloped country out there for our snowplay. (Especially in downstate Michigan!)

Today's trail skiing gear is wonderfully designed to deliver easy ski fun anywhere there's snow. It's rugged, stable, affordable, and high performance!

...And the ski companies invest in ZERO marketing of all this in the USA. And there are only a few ski-shops that promote it, either. So we have to do it ourselves! Let's go!

The Mt-Bike of Skis!

Let's start with the new trend to Mid-length skis. They are a bit shorter than usual, and wide enough to give some flotation when touring, and with a fair bit of sidecut to make turning easier. They're also usually nowax, with a grip-pattern underfoot in the kickzone. This kind of ski is great for just getting out and playing around. It's also wonderful for skiing on most any kind of challenging hiking or mtbiking trail. Realworld trails are narrower and have more twists and turns in them than a typical groomed course. It's great to have a nimble ski for diverse trail fun.

Now, nowax skis aren't always as fast as waxables, but most trails are steeper in terms of ups'n'downs than groomed courses. So having more grip for the ups and more friction to help you control the downhills is a GOOD THING! The net result is often more speed along with great relaxation along the way.

Also, adventure skiing can take a few hours compared to a short groomed-course workout. Snow conditions can easily change as morning turns to afternoon. With nowax skis this isn't any big deal: they keep working fine. With waxers you'd be fiddling with waxes a good part of the time. (Some folks enjoy doing this. Me among them. But it's not for everyone.)

On the flipside: nowaxers always work at least pretty good. So if you just want to dash out for a quick ski you can be under way instantly without worrying about waxing.

So, for either short or long outings, nowax has a lot going for it. (I still always like keeping some waxers around.)

Trails also sometimes have mixed conditions and dirt and leaves on them even when they're snowy. Nowax skis don't care about any of that!

Nowadays, nowax comes in several flavors. All are decent. We have patterns, or rubbery material, or just this past year we've seen a new breed of mohair grip-skin-strips. It's all good.

Midlength skis seem most useful for mellow trail skiing when they're around 50-55mm wide. This width will give you great kick'n'glide speed as well as good cornering power.

As your snow gets deeper and your trails get steeper and icier (or rootier), you can go wider in increments and also add metal edges. Metal edges are only ever helpful if your trails are icy. For more snow depth and g-forces all you need is more width. Only add edges when your scene starts to include crud, ice, wood.

Today's wide BC/tele boards are often available with nowax patterns. You can tour for miles on 100mm wide skis nowadays. However, for funnest kick'n'glide you won't want to go much wider than 68mm. These will let you still fit your skis into ski-tracks. It depends on how much linked-turning you'll be including in your usual outings.

If you're really out playing in the hills and might be doing 50-50 skiing -- which is awesome -- then 85mm is great.

If you're really hitting the wild slopes and doing turns plus up-track action -- skiing in your own switchbacks to get you back to the top -- well, then hitting the 100mm range will keep you smiling all day and in all conditions.

Such wide skis will deliver the awesomeness of the outback anywhere to you. No need for expensive, polluting, waste-of-time, freeze-your-butt chairlifts. Uptracks are half the fun! "Earn your turns" isn't a joke. Yeah, lift-served skiing is a blast. But heading out into any hills anywhere there's snow is in a whole different league.

Our moderate Midwest terrain seems most suited for a striding oriented ski. But we do have big hills, too! ...Probably it's best to have a variety of skis, right?  : )

These rugged thrifty new midlength skis are the mtbikes of skis. They let you go anywhere. Narrow, fragile groomed course skis are the roadbikes of skis. Horses for courses.

What's crazy is that the dominant US ski culture considers one very limited kind of ski to be most elite and most advanced. Yet you can only use it for one kind of skiing. What's also interesting is that all such skis are nearly identical. And they're pricey and fragile. The world of high performance skis and skiing is actually a very wide-ranging diverse place!

Sweet New Performance Bindings!

Today's NNN and SNS bindings offer such huge gains for control and ease of use compared to bindings of yesteryear. If you haven't used them for trail skiing you don't know what you're missing! It's easy for any binding to work great on a groomed ski course. Now throw in some twisty turns and power downhill cornering and you have the kind of skiing that today's bindings are really made for! To get even more cornering power use the BC versions of the bindings. They're the same only beefier and they only weigh a few ounces more.

Awesome New Trail Boots!

Today's XC ski boots are so much better than they used to be! The special angle is the boot-sole, first of all. They're molded to work great and flex just so. Then there's the snowproof upper, designed to shed build-up. But what caps off today's new ski boots are the pivoting cuffs. These don't bother your ski and foot action, letting you freely horse around. But they give support and control for turning. Far better than boots used to!

Ski Poles -- Cool Options -- but use Big Baskets!

When out touring or picnicking any poles work great. ...As long as they have big baskets! Baskets made for groomed skiing are becoming so tiny these days as to be unusable for trail skiing. The snow has to be packed rock hard to use them. So only buy poles with such baskets if you'll only ski heavily processed courses. Otherwise, buy poles with baskets that will give you some float! They should be 2-3" in diameter or more.

Now, as poles get lighter they do get more fun to use and much less tiring. If you're out skiing trails with some zest, vim and vigor you'll love the lightest poles you can afford. The great thing there is that nowadays carbon poles are available at half the cost they used to be. I strongly suggest carbon poles for max snow fun. They are best for after you've sorted out your own personal way of splatting in the snow during crashes. The main thing with carbon is that you don't want to strike them when they are weighted. You don't want to plant a pole then bonk it with your knee, for instance. Carbon is special stuff. I've had my poles for 25 years and have crashed hundreds of times with them. They're still fine! But I've learned to fling them out of the way as I'm wiping out. Poles can't help you in a crash anyway. My hands are still in the loops but I just aim to hit the snow with my hands and arms and rotate the poles away. It seems to work every time!


Use anything you have! Don't worry about it! However, wool seems best to me, by far. There's no need to suit-up with lycra anything unless you're doing a highspeed workout, or race, with other folks wearing the same stuff. When you're on your own or just out with friends for goofing around, it's all good. Skiing keeps you warm. Bring something extra for if you're gonna stop and stand around a bit.

The Whole Enchilda

Considering the whole trail skiing package that's available today for a few hundred bucks, you now have more control that downhill skiers had not too long ago.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great overview, Jeff! I'm working on "tweener" setup that involves combi race boots (for their rigidity and snug fit) and a thin-ish touring ski (Madshus Voss or something similar). I also love to skate on classic skis when the opportunity arises (snowmobile trails!) but I'm worried that I might have a hard time skating on a 205 or 210 length cm ski...Any thoughts on this setup?