Winter approach AT ski setup

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the_hare
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Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by the_hare »

This past winter I pretty much reached my limit for snowshoeing on calendar winter peaks with a 15hr day on Columbia. I figured I'd add another tool to my toolkit and extend my daytrippable winter peaks with a backcountry/ alpine touring ski setup. There’s a number of summits that seem to have mellow but long winter approaches on roads and trails up to bootable higher features (Unc, Harvard via Frenchman creek, Blanca & Ellingwood, Holy Cross, more in the Elks & SJs) that I could significantly cut down moving time on the descent with skis.

I'm really not interested in summit descent skiing (...yet), certainly not during winter, and I'm not interested in resort skiing either. I just want an alternative to snowshoes that can save some time and make more winter peaks feasible without camping. I've been cramming BC ski gear research the past couple weeks and putting together a used kit. Basically I just wanted to share my experience jumping in to all of this for anyone else thinking same way and hear from more experienced folks how sound my reasoning/rationalizing is for getting these things plus any tips.

Kit I got:
Scott Super Guide Skis 95mm width, 184cm length ($450 w/ bindings included, demo, Powder7 in Golden)
Fritschi Tecton bindings (included w skis ^)
Scarpa F1 boots 2016/17 model ($125, used, fb marketplace)
G3 Alpinist skins ($40, new, Feral in Denver)

For skis I understand the usual winter all-mountain width is ~105mm but the best deal I could find for the service Powder7 offered was the 95s. I figured the longer skis (I'm 5'9" 150lbs) could compensate for the shorter width flotation-wise, plus I don't plan on doing crazy shredding with these anyways. A 105 width would only provide about a 6in x 6in or ~12% increase of flotation area too--that wouldn't feel too significant in snowshoes to me but not sure how different it is for skinning.

For bindings it seems more lighter weight tech bindings are the usual, but I leaned towards the hybrid-heel Fritschi bindings for a safer release since I'm new to skiing and don't want to risk an epic injury in the winter backcountry. That safety seemed worth it for the 1/3lb each weight difference from lighter models like Dynafit Radicals.

Scarpa F1 boots aren’t the lightest weight in their lightweight uphill-focused category, but I wanted to have a fuller/ more waterproof shell than something more agile like Salomon S Lap X Alp. Still not completely satisfied w the fit and I’m not sure how warm they’ll be tho, might have to put down for a roomier boot.

I’ve seen mixed reviews on G3 skins but it was a killer deal and they fit the widest part of my skis perfectly. Not sure how skins like this might operate in moderate winter conditions compared to normal touring spring conditions tho.

Overall I was surprised how well older backcountry gear held its value, no dirt cheap beater stuff to be found really. The different styles and models for each piece of gear have been complicated to learn, lots more moving parts and features than just snowshoes and hiking boots. It’s been difficult to get a good read on boot fitting as well since the older more affordable models that I’d want to buy aren’t stocked in all sizes to try at a store anymore. This activity is pricey but I feel pretty satisfied I was able to collect all 4 of these gear pieces for basically the cost of one of them new.

Other threads I’ve found helpful for this topic:
https://www.14ers.com/forum/viewtopic. ... 95#p655895
https://www.14ers.com/forum/viewtopic.p ... 34#p773334
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Veory
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by Veory »

I am very similar build, 5'9" and 160 lbs and use a 96mm (not even a long ski, 171 cm) and haven't had issues where I really wish I had more, can even ski powder pretty well in it.

Skins don't necessarily have to fit the bottom part of the ski perfectly, can be a little skinnier with very minimal harm.

I will say, learning how to ski properly makes a huge difference in fun/ energy expenditure, even on easy terrain like roads. This is because bad conditions punish bad form as I've heard people say, and believe me I know. Fell over a ton on the road back down Culebra during a winter attempt a couple months after I skied for the first time. Worth a season of resort skiing with lessons, or someone to coach you if possible.

I thought I would be the same, using skis as a tool to climb, but now that I've improved enough to comfortably ski 40-45 degrees, I can assure you skiing is becoming the reason for my climbs haha. Not saying you'll be the same but don't resist the urge once you get it :)

I am also not the most experienced on here (obviously), so I'll be curious what others have to say as well.
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JacobW
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by JacobW »

I think you made good choices. I've skied the Scott Superguide 95's for the last couple years as my lightweight setup. They're not super-forgiving ski, but they have a ton of edge-hold, if you find yourself in some steeps or firm conditions.

You're right that the G3 skins aren't the best, but it's really hard to beat that price. If you find yourself using that setup a ton, it might be worth upgrading those.

Make sure to pick up a voile strap or two, they're always useful for backcountry skiing if you encounter boot issues or broken skin clips.
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by Skimo95 »

I’m not a skier but there’s been a few times in the winter I wish I had an extra set of skins. Rough up those G3 and then get a backup set of Pomoca afterwards (which would become your main). I’ve also used ski (splitboard) crampons for approaches in winter for added security. I think you’re making a good move ditching the snowshoes. I will add the first couple trips will be frustrating, but it does get easier. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a resort day or two, just to build confidence on your setup.
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rmcpherson
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by rmcpherson »

Curious: what is your level of experience skiing downhill? I'd think you want at least some practice for the descent on skis? It sounds like you are planning to ski down, and some conditions could be difficult to navigate safely without practice.

That looks like a pretty great setup for the money, though. Definitely less than I spent on my backcountry equipment.

Perhaps you already have avalanche training but if not, an AIARE Level 1 course, and reading "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" by Bruce Tremper are good ideas to minimize the risks there.
Last edited by rmcpherson on Tue Apr 23, 2024 12:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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SkaredShtles
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by SkaredShtles »

rmcpherson wrote: Tue Apr 23, 2024 10:26 am Curious: what is your level of experience skiing downhill? I'd think you want at least some practice for the descent on skis? It sounds like you are planning to ski down, and some conditions could be difficult to naviage safely without practice.
This bears repeating. If you're a novice/non-skier, there are *lots* of situations in the backcountry that snowshoes would actually be safer on the way down. If the OP is not a DH skier already, they would do themselves a pretty great service to take the gear out to a ski area at least a few times. Perhaps even take a lesson.
Perhaps you already have avalanche training but if not, an AIARE Level 1 course, and reading "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" by Bruce Tremper are good ideas to minimize the risks there.
Also this. Having at least an acquaintance with avalanche terrain identification, mitigation/avoidance techniques, etc. would a VERY good idea.
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Jorts
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by Jorts »

Congrats on making the jump. I was in the same boat as you not too long ago. Sounds like you've made your bed by taking the plunge on that setup but here's my $0.02 all the same:
  • Those skis are a little long for your height and experience. In time you'll get more proficient with practice regardless. Like others have mentioned, relish some resort days.
  • 105 underfoot is overkill outside of powder days. American culture of the 2010s promoted giant skis but that pendulum is swinging back again. 90-100 is an adequate all purpose width for ski mountaineering and approach skinning. Realistically, you'll often just be cruising down your skin track for your exit anyway.
  • F1s and Fritschis should be fine for your primary usage. I prefer tech bindings personally and I'm not familiar with Fritschis.
  • Regardless of skin brand, there's mohair, nylon and hybrid. Mohair glide best and have the least durability. Nylon have better grip. For flatter approaches you'll probably want mohair.
  • With respect to the minutiae of surface area, skis have better flotation and efficiency than snowshoes invariably. There are details to get caught up on, and those not to. I wouldn't sweat the surface area too much. Uphill weight makes more of a difference. When you start to really enjoy the turns, it's worth building out a quiver and choosing a ski conducive to conditions.
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pvnisher
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by pvnisher »

For anyone building a ski quiver, be sure to put in threaded binding inserts!
For the love of God save yourself hundreds of dollars and just use the one set of bindings on all your skis!

To the other stuff, it's probably weight more than anything on the ascent.

And on the descent it's skill and experience (or just skill, lol) more than anything.

And comfortable boots.
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SchralpTheGnar
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by SchralpTheGnar »

Re: binding inserts, I had those on a pair of voile carbon surfs a while back, they came that way, and the install on the dynamite bindings was super easy, but is the mount pattern the same for all bindings so you can swap any type of binding? I’ve never mounted a pair of skis so have no idea.
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SkaredShtles
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by SkaredShtles »

SchralpTheGnar wrote: Wed Apr 24, 2024 10:31 pm Re: binding inserts, I had those on a pair of voile carbon surfs a while back, they came that way, and the install on the dynamite bindings was super easy, but is the mount pattern the same for all bindings so you can swap any type of binding? I’ve never mounted a pair of skis so have no idea.
The mount patterns are not the same between bindings.
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by Wildernessjane »

I’ll take a shorter, wider ski over a longer, skinnier ski any day for the added maneuverability. A longer ski is more stable at high speeds, a shorter ski is more maneuverable. That said, I completely agree that 90-100 underfoot is perfectly adequate for what you are looking for. At the same time, 184 is a pretty long ski for a beginner who is 5’9. Although body weight could also make a difference here, being able to maneuver those skis is going to be the most important thing. You’re going to really limit yourself if you only plan on using them on approaches that involve forest service roads. Most winter 14ers involve at least some travel through the trees where maneuverability is going to be pretty important. Personally, I always feel like the ski out on a tight, icy skin track is the most risky part as far as injury potential and I wouldn’t want to be on a ski that is too long for me.

Here’s a pretty useful guide for choosing the right ski. It also talks about other aspects of choosing the right ski. https://www.backcountry.com/explore/how ... ski-length
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Re: Winter approach AT ski setup

Post by pvnisher »

SchralpTheGnar wrote: Wed Apr 24, 2024 10:31 pm Re: binding inserts, I had those on a pair of voile carbon surfs a while back, they came that way, and the install on the dynamite bindings was super easy, but is the mount pattern the same for all bindings so you can swap any type of binding? I’ve never mounted a pair of skis so have no idea.
Patterns are different. There are some shared platforms, but it's not universal.

I currently have two bindings, salmon Warden for Alpine and tecton for AT. They have different patterns.

I plan out the mounting so that I can have one binding adjusted far forward, and the other one further back. So the holes aren't too close.

But with those two pairs of bindings I can do whatever I want with one pair of boots on any of my 4 pairs of skis.

I even mounted inserts on my old snow blades, so they've got proper bindings if I want to take them out!

As for the short/wide debate, for the OP, and looking for an approach ski more than a downhill ski, I would go for a short fat one any day. More like a long sliding snow shoe.
So much easier to use in trees, off paths, willows, etc.
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