As spring arrives here a bit early I thought it would be a good time to revisit the skis I’ve been on over the last year or two. Last season, I chimed in on what variety of skis I was utilizing for various human powered backcountry adventures. Again, I have found myself with a similar quiver and corresponding outlook on such setups. Not much has changed but I’ve been on a bunch of skis in the interim – some good, some bad, and some indifferent. Luckily, I have a ski partner who has the same BSL as me, which has helped facilitate the amount of ski testing I’ve had access to over the last few years.
For a quick background, I am 5’10”, 145lbs. I love big mountains and fast lines but more often than not, do my fair share of wiggle turns. Bridger Bowl is my hometown ski area although I’m usually there in the pre/post-season. My average day is somewhere between 3000′ and 7000′ vert in the 5-15 mile range here in Montana and Wyoming. Going into spring, this season has me at over 50 days of backcountry skiing with hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands vertical feet. October-July is usually our season with everything from knee+ deep cold smoke to spring corn and all points between. Most of the winter here often entails some form of deep powder skiing.
An equally important piece of the pie, I ski on a couple different boots and bindings. Some of this is dictated by cost and/or availability but it all is part of a system. I use a mix of bindings – all tech (Dynafit) style. Currently I have a some Plum race bindings, Dynafit Speed Superlights, and Speed Radical toes/Speed Turn heels. For boots, this is my second season on the TLT6 Performance. I can’t say enough good about this boot, with a few minor nitpicks (cuff pivot!) that have already been hashed out on WildSnow/TGR. I’ve also just taken the plunge, and snagged some Aliens. No, not the 1.0, but a damn light and sneaker-like ski shoe all the same. My horizons just may have been expanded yet again.
On to the ski quiver. I’ll start with the skinny and work my way to the fat. I’ll also include skis I’ve skied over this last year but don’t currently own.
(My current quiver of three will each have an * to denote).
[Sidecut (mm), Mfg spec weight per ski (g), Turn radius (m), My verified weight per ski (g)]
Dynafit Cho Oyu 174 (125-88-111, 1190g, 16-12-15, 1208g)
Sportiva GTR 168* (114-82-104, 1250g, 22, 1253g)
Voile Vector 180 (121-96-110, 1560g, 23, 1550g)
Voile V6 173* (121-98-107, 1499g, 18, 1503g)
Voile V6 183 (124-100-109, 1675g, 19, 1698g)
Dynafit Huascaran 177* (134-112-123, 1780g, 35-19-30, 1794g)
As I had considered about a year ago, I broke down and purchased the much hyped Dynafit Cho Oyu in a 174cm length late last season (13/14). Skied it a bunch of times and couldn’t wait to sell em. Mounted center with Speed Superlights and rear adjustment plates. The Cho was a squirrely ride, even in near perfect boot top pow. My aforementioned ski partner, Adam, also skied them in the same great conditions on the same slopes/aspects and came to the same conclusion as I. Despite this I continued to try to make them work in various terrain but was time and time again left unimpressed. That’s the game though – can’t really know until you try. I’m sure the Cho works for some, but not for me. I believe that Coast Steep Skier has used them in dicier conditions than I’ll ever ski, so please take my dislike for this ski with a grain of salt.
So moving on to what works for me: Sportiva’s GTR (168)
Bomber. My go-to “edged alpinism” ski. As a nod to the GTR, both myself and Adam have owned/extensively skied the GTR and give it high praise. Steady, stable and fairly traditional. A bit of tip rocker and a straight tail. Not super light, but not porky either. And damn dear shreddable in most terrain. Also, now discontinued if I’ve done my math correct. I guess I’m a bit late for the boat but am nonetheless stoked on this inaugural ski from Sportiva. A keeper.
The best of show/workhorse: Voile Vector (180)
Lots of previous internet thoughts on this rad little number. Get it, ride it, shred it. Smile. And repeat. Thank you Voile.
I skied two pairs over the course of three years and have not a bad word against the Vector. A great balance between weight, durability, and ski-ability. In all reasonable terrain. From steep lines to spring corn, this handles everything but the very deepest. I believe it demands more from the skier than the V6 but the results can be quite pleasant. It’s definitely not as playful as the V6 but it still has enough rocker to make it surf when need be. My trusty workhorse.
Voile V6 (173 and 183)
I snagged a couple of these in different lengths and ended up settling on the shorter 173 as my quiver of one length. The 183 was a better length for my style of skiing but I made a choice and learned my lesson. The 173 has been seeing use this end of winter and into spring as what I thought would be a wider and lighter replacement to the 180 Vector. I was also wrong in this assumption.
Both the Vector and the V6 have characteristics that make them unique skis in the quiver. I should’ve known but had to ski it to believe it. The larger turn radius and narrower profile of the Vector I find to be better suited for ski mountaineering and opening up the throttle, while the playfully shorter radius and wider platform of the V6 makes it better suited for treed powder and trickier, variable snow. Although I’ve skied some steeper technical lines with the V6, I would likely choose the Vector for said terrain given another round.
Last but not least, the venerable land shark: Dynafit Huascaran (177)
If there is a quantity of snow, this beast of a lightweight plank keeps me grinning all day long. Two years of use and I’m sold. They turn big, turn small, shuck and jive when needed, and smear like a modern 5-point ski is supposed to. I have to really try to break their speed limit in deep snow – which is quite pleasant for such a relatively short ski. Too bad that Dynafit is doing away with this offering and replacing it with a more “freeride” (read: HEAVY) oriented ski. Oh well, at least these exist and should now be on steep discount online. Get em while you can!
In a nutshell, ski it and find out. After, of course, sufficiently exhausting your online resources for pre-game honing. Then, go spend some of that hard-earned loot and forget that it ever existed! Human powered bc skiing is far more valuable than any monetary figure (obviously) and I’m pretty enamored with the whole process (again, obviously). Despite a quirky snow season here, this ski year has brought me more skiing and more summits/lines than I could have imagined. I hope that yours was just as enjoyable and that spring brings what you are looking for!
A week off and a short flight recently brought Julia and I southbound, to one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Grand Canyon. After a bit of pre-trip planning, we concluded that car camping on the South Rim and venturing out for a couple of runs would be an effective way to see a lot of the canyon in our short 3-night January stay. This was my second trip in over a decade and Julia’s first glimpse of the area. The inexpensive flights came with the small price of landing us in Phoenix, where we rented a car and then drove north, through Flagstaff and onto the canyon. We didn’t mind at all, as we drove through the desert and iconic Saguaro on the way to higher, colder elevations.
We arrived in the dark on our first night, and embraced the cold evening with a nice campsite fire after enjoying a margarita and our second Mexican meal of the day. We awoke well before dawn the next morning to run the South Kaibab to Bright Angel. Our proposed round-trip to the canyon bottom and back was to be a bit over 16 miles with the 5000′ descent being mostly along the steeper and more direct South Kaibab ridge. Coming up the Bright Angel is a different experience altogether, with it being less steeply graded and a lot more wet. There are a few springs and even waterfalls at this time of year along the BA. It is quite the vibrant side canyon, providing a great counterpoint to the dry South Kaibab.
We ended up adding a few miles to our trip by rallying out to Plateau Point. Once refueled and rehydrated at the verdant oasis of Indian Garden, we agreed that this little side-trip was pretty much obligatory given that we had already come this far. It’s not that often to get these trails mainly to ourselves and in great running condition. So three more miles of sublime desert single track and a direct overlook of the muddy Colorado was our fine reward.
After our brief detour, it was onward and upward for the last five miles and 3000′. Fairly reasonable given the many mule switchbacks that lazily wind their way to the South Rim. By this time we could feel the legs starting to weigh but the scenery and solitude in such ridiculously outlandish country was enough to sustain. The last stretch went by easily and with much appreciation for the day. I’d like to give a big word of congrats to Julia for cruising on her longest run to date. Twenty miles in total and an experience not to be forgotten. Well done, J!
We experienced temps ranging from highs in the 50°s F to lows in the 20°s. From bluebird to overcast and even a a couple inches of snow fell one evening. Perfect running and hiking weather for the Canyon. Both Julia and myself used running vests from Ultimate Direction, much to our satisfaction. In these we carried wind pants and wind shirts, nanospikes, gloves and buffs, fuel for the day (mostly chews, gels, and bars), P&S camera, a liter of water apiece in soft-sided bottles (refilled along the way), a map, and a small emergency/FAK.
The only bit we didn’t need were the nanospikes, as nearly all of the trails that we encountered were free from snow and ice. Truly a pleasure. We did some hiking, sightseeing, and good eating for the remaining two days along the South Rim. Took in as much as we feasibly could during our short stay in such a large and intricate place. It was a wonderful trip and one that I imagine will trickle back to us for years to come.
Over this past holiday season, Julia and I went out on a couple of backcountry camping trips in the Northern Gallatin range and also along Slough Creek in the Yellowstone Park. One trip to the alpine and the second to high grassland/coniferous forest. Both different and bolstering in their respective offerings. There are multiple ways to go about it, but the name of the game is to stay warm and dry while out overnight in the winter. That’s my sage advice 😉
The art of staying out in lower 48 winters isn’t beyond reason and as per the norm, practice always helps. Emerald Lake just before Christmas was accompanied with marvelous powder and moderate temperatures in the high teens/low twenties (°F). What we didn’t bargain for were the all-night and into morning gale winds. We woke concerned that our previously secured packs/skis/poles outside had been ripped from their perches. But all was well. Lesson learned here was to be prepared with the correct shelter and campsite for the situation. We chose a 9000′ alpine cirque to perch and paid only the small price of a loud night’s sleep. Julia and I have weathered similar winds in the BD Firstlight on previous occasions and can attest to its classically stout design. Prior to the night’s wind, it was dead quiet and lightly snowing as we warmed ourselves around a glorious winter fire.
Yellowstone was, as always, expansive. The north and northeastern parts of the park are held closely in my heart for many a reason. And winter, dear winter… The forecast for Mammoth and Cooke City were to be in the single digits. New Year’s eve in the park yielded temps down to well below zero. It was -5°F around 9pm as a reference. Chilly, and just manageable. Insulated pants, booties, and jackets were worn in conjunction with our amazingly crafted Valandre Mirage sleeping bags to keep us from freezing in the late night/early morning hours. While not necessarily warm, we weren’t shivering either.
Ringing in the New Year amongst Yellowstone’s wildlife and under the blanket of the Milky Way is well worth dealing with a bit of cold. It also helped to have a bit of leeway in our systems to allow for deviation from the expected temperatures. All of our gear worked as planned, with the exception of a blown seal on my rehydrated dinner. The glue melted away from the zipper and I soon found this out with the bag tucked in my layers, while leaning over to tend to melting snow. With Julia’s patient help, dinner was largely salvaged and I got most of the beef stew out of my clothing. What an ordeal at the time but a lesson learned all the same. I can safely say that after smelling the spilled remnants on my clothes for the remainder of the trip, I no longer have any desire for said stew! And it was nothing that a New Year’s bubbly couldn’t fix!
Besides this, I’ve been skiing these rolling and relatively flat trips with a fairly lightweight AT rig and my TLT6s while Julia has been using her Fischer XCD setup. Both work just fine, with reliability, stability, and warmth points being awarded to my setup. Julia’s XCD ski ensemble wins for overall weight and kick/glide. If money were no object, Julia would most likely have a Voile Vector BC or similar with simple tech bindings and TLT boots. But the XCD skis fill that void in the meantime. As for the rest of our gear, I’ll give shoutouts to the NeoAir X-Therm and the MSR Reactor. Both are arguably gold standards of winter recreation and proven in our usage.
These recent winter camping trips in the Greater Yellowstone were learning experiences that continue to shape and mold our day-to-day existence. Drops in the well. I look forward to more of these in the future. We’re pushing our boundaries and gaining ground, one day at a time.
2014 was a year of large life events for me.
Julia and I got married July 5th. It was the absolute best of times. Really though, words can’t describe.
We purchased our first house together also in July. Seized the day, per se. Trails out the front door and mountains minutes away.
I began early in the year with a desire to be in the best shape of my life. This I accomplished mainly through trail running and AT skiing. While numbers don’t even begin to tell the story, a bit helps: over 1000 trail miles ran and just about 300,000 vertical feet gained (and lost). Skiing not included and not forgotten. Many thousands of vert and ephemeral times to match.
For many years I wasn’t taking the best care of myself and decided to do something about it. It hasn’t always been straightforward, but the rewards are too great for my meager words to explain. It’s a continuing and iterative process that has me intrigued, excited, and looking forward to the future. I owe my father a huge thanks here, as it was he who introduced me to running over 20 years ago. He then pursued among other things, road running, hiking, backpacking, and overall the outdoors. I soon followed suit. I began road racing around ten years old and continued to do so for over 5 years. Other recreation took the place of running soon after I ran my first half-marathon accompanied by none other than my Dad. It’s been a while since then but now I’m back at it and loving the pursuit. So, thanks Dad for the early intro!
“The times…”, as Dylan so poetically coined. In all, this was a fairly eventful year in my life – one that I wouldn’t trade for a thing. I couldn’t have done it without the help, love, and support of many fine folks along the way. Friends, family, and strangers alike – I’m thankful for you all and immensely grateful for yet another trip around the sun. Thanks 2014, and welcome 2015. Here we come.
Oh, alpine climbing. As with most things that are worth achieving in life, they often require a bit of hard work and perseverance. In this case, between a climbing partner and myself we collectively totaled over 60 miles of walking our ice tools around this fall in unsuccessful attempts to snag the Lowe Direct on the north face of Sphinx Mountain (10876’/3315m) here in the Northern Madison. And this doesn’t count last year’s attempts. Some could think that this was born of gross oversight or ill-preparedness but the main component of our story is timing. They say it is of the essence.
Fickle early season melt-freeze conditions that are precluded by a storm are the main part of this equation. Too much snow, and the approach becomes impassable due to loading. Too little, and the climbs don’t form. Climbers have been avalanched off of this face, so conditions are nothing to be taken lightly. The country is also prime elk hunting country and thick with grizzlies, which adds another twist to the five mile approach. On our last attempt, we finally saw a grizzly (running away from us below the north face) as opposed to just huge tracks on the trail. Better there than in the first mile or so of ‘bone-alley’, a narrow canyon corridor often adorned with fresh bones where a bear encounter would likely be less fun.
This last weekend yielded a successful romp on the Lowe Route, with the Direct not being in. Although we gave it another look, the bottom pitches weren’t formed and we didn’t feel up to that sort of adventure climbing so we once again retreated from the base of the Sphinx’s north face. This time, though, the upper pitches looked to be mostly in and we rallied back to the Helmet/Sphinx saddle and up to the traverse into the upper routes. The Earl-Trimble had plentiful ice, with a party on it and everything but the dagger WI5 pitch of the Lowe was formed.
Despite not getting the classic pillar, by this time I was ok with it and happy to be finally swinging tools on some ice. We were two of over a dozen folks seen on the face that day and were lucky to have climbed, as at least one party was turned away. I can relate from waiting last year on that face while multiple parties queued up for perfect October conditions. A bit later and a bit thinner this year, but climbable all the same.
As I sit here with a lingering sense of accomplishment and an eye/ear towards the next, temperatures have dropped over 50 degrees F from a high of 62°, to one of single digits over the last few days. I just snuck in my first powder turns of the season and look forward to the coming of winter. Our amazing Montana autumn has finally come to an unofficial close and its now time to sharpen tools, wax skis, and pray for snow. Last season was one for the books; let us sneak in another…