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Alpine Touring

marymack

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#1
My boyfriend is a tele guy so really would rather be skinning and skiing backcountry stuff. Though he has humored me (and on the East coast there was no backcountry snow last year anyway!) and we've just been skiing resort for the last 2 years.
I've only ever been a resort skier, though I'm venturing into the glades more and more and I'm fairly comfortable in ungroomed snow. I'd like to start looking into getting Alpine Touring gear (I have decided I don't really want to make the switch to Tele).
Some questions:
1) Are there places that rent AT gear (New England or southern Quebec) so you can try it before investing in new bindings, new boots and skins?
2) For those that made the switch, did you go all in and get all new gear or did you work up to it...using something like alpine trekkers instead of getting new bindings or just loosening your boots to skin up if your current boots don't have walk/hike mode? Regarding boots, do you use a similar flex boot or go softer in the backcountry? Any other gear considerations e.g. are my volkl Kenja's ok or should I get a lighter/wider ski?

I know eventually I would need to take an avy course etc. but at this point we are talking skinning up resorts before opening or finding low angle glades in our local state park, so I'm thinking at least I can wait on getting stuff like avy beacons etc.
 

Pequenita

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#2
There are a few demo shops in New Hampshire. A quick google search came up with this: https://www.villageskiandsport.com/. I think the chances of finding AT demos are going to be higher near the White Mountains - I bought my first set of boots up there about 6 years ago.

For myself, there is a significant correlation between having gear that works properly/for the function and enjoyment of new activities. So, my recommendation is that if you are going to transition to AT, don't half-a$$ it by using your alpine boots, or getting overly heavy skis, or skins that don't fit your skis, etc. Rather, scour swaps, Craigslist, and this Facebook page for used gear that may work for you. Regarding boots, your range of motion is significantly limited without walk mode, and then depending on the type of binding, even more limited.

I worked up incrementally with gear, but not the way you described. More like I bought things at different times of the year, but by the time ski season started, I had a full, albeit heavy, AT setup.

Kenjas are do-able as backcountry skis if you don't mind the weight. I know women who use the older Aura as their b/c skis, so I would expect the Kenjas to also be workable. My backcountry ski is 92mm waist, with maybe a slightly wider shovel than the Kenja. My b/c skis are also shorter than my alpine setup, in large part because I am miserable in trees and want to turn when I really, really need to. :smile:

When it comes to boots, they are generally softer than alpine boots, but I don't think this is going to be what you think about when purchasing. My experience is that fit matters so much more (because you're probably going uphill more than down!) and there are generally fewer choices. Also, as a practical/safety matter, many people ski more conservatively in the backcountry than they do in resorts -- you have to haul yourself out if things go sideways; therefore, you don't get yourself into hairy situations in the first place. There are a bunch of boots that can serve as both AT and alpine; I think they are a great way to start. Backcountry bootfitting purists will tell you that these boots are great at neither function. :smile: Who knows. At some point it becomes about your preference.

Best wishes! I'm sure other ladies have great input on this, as well.
 
#3
I can only comment on #2!

I've gradually transitioned to having a dedicated setup. When I decided I wanted to try it, I thought about renting for a couple of days (it's possible where I lived), but found a used pair of skis for sale in my town with Fritschi Freeride bindings and skins. Those bindings are compatible with any kind of boots, so the first year I used my regular alpine boots for my first avy course and a couple of tours. My feet weren't happy about it and it was a very heavy set up, but I decided I liked touring well enough.

The next year I needed new boots anyway, so I got a touring boot. That boot is not tech compatible (which was fine, as I was using the Fritschi bindings) and had swappable soles, so that I could have the Vibram soles for touring and regular alpine soles for resort days. I used that boot for years for all my skiing (still am), but it is definitely softer (especially now, 5 years later), than I would have for strictly alpine skiing. It's also roomier, because I need more space at the toes for walking all day in the boots than skiing. It was basically a decision to sacrifice some alpine performance in order to have only a single boot. I also sacrificed some touring performance, because although lighter than my old alpine boots, the touring boots were mid-range for weight of a touring boot (probably on the heavier end at the time, actually, as that was before many of the major regular alpine boot manufacturers got into the market). I also signed myself up for many years of switching soles all the time, which is 22 screws worth of work every time I switch skis.

The year after I got my touring boots I decided that I was still liking touring but that the skis I had bought used were way too stiff/heavy/long/etc for me to manage in variable backcountry conditions. I sold them and bought myself a new setup, and chose to stick with the Fritschi Freeride binding setup. That's been my setup for the 4-5 years since. Although I loved the skis, in the past couple of years as I've been doing more touring, I've been kind of wishing that I had a lighter binding/boot setup.

Last year my skis started to delaminate (both skis on the same day...) and are currently being held together with epoxy. So, I went shopping and bought some new skis. I also have chosen tech bindings, which means I need new boots. So, new touring boots are on my shopping list for...soon. I should probably get on doing that... Once I get those boots I will have a dedicated touring setup - boots, bindings, skis, skins. My old touring boots will become my straight alpine boots until I decide to replace them. And my old touring skis will become my "powder" skis until they delaminate for good. I'll end up setting up those bindings to work with the alpine sole so that I can stop switching soles, as I won't need the Vibram touring sole for non-touring.

I was trying to save money by mixing equipment between alpine and touring functions, and did that. But there were some compromises along the way. The selection of touring boots now is larger, with more manufacturers in the game. Even many of the lighter boots now are stiffer than what I've been skiing on. There are more binding options now too. But if you're not sure if this is something that's going to become a major activity for you, then using hybrid gear or step-in bindings rather than tech can certainly be a logical decision, as then you have more cross-functional gear if you decide that maybe touring is something you don't do that often.

Regarding skis, you can use anything you like. The main thing to consider is weight, so the question is really what you're willing to haul up the hill on your feet! My old touring skis (Atomic Century) and new (Nordica Santa Ana) are both 100m wide at the waist, and that works for me in the conditions that I ski. Rarely do I have perfect powder backcountry days, so perfomance in variable conditions (from hardpack to breakable crust to slushy cruddy junk to powder) is important. I could have gotten a lighter ski but chose the Santa Ana and went with the lighter bindings than I've had before.

One extra note: just because you're skinning on a resort doesn't mean there's no avalanche risk, especially if you're there before opening or after closing.
 
#4
I've had a setup for a season and a half, and only actually gotten to use it about 3 or 4 times due to last season's lack of snow. I have an AT binding that fits a regular DIN sole (Tyrolia Adrenalin) on an old pair of Fischer's, 88 underfoot, and so far so good with them.

I didn't see the reason for spending a lot of money on a new ski specifically for backcountry, since I wasn't sure how much I'd go. I have a pair of regular alpine boots with a walk mode, which seemed to be a good transition for me. If this year turns out better than last, and I use them quite a bit more, I'll start looking at lightening up my set up. But for now, upgrading slowly in pieces has seemed to work out for me.

As for demos in New England, the only place I know of is the one @Pequenita mentioned in Lincoln, NH. Good luck and happy trekking!
 

marymack

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#6
Well I'm on my way! I found someone selling a pair of skis with AT bindings (marker Dukes). The skis are a bit too long for me but it just so happens the bf was due for a new resort ski anyway so we are going to pull the bindings off and mount them on a different pair of skis (haven't decided if it will be one of my skis or if I will get a new pair) and then he will mount tele bindings on the new-to-us skis.

I currently have:
Volkl Kenjas (170cm)
Volkl Tierras (163)
Volkl Fuegos (161)
I'm thinking either the Kenjas or the Tierras. The Kenjas because they are a bit wider but they are longer and HEAVY and sometimes I have a harder time turning them a low speeds. The Tierras are usually my go to "iffy snow" ski. I believe with the Dukes I will still be able to ski them in resort, but I worry that they may not be that great in true ungroomed snow. Thoughts? Should I look into a dedicated backcountry ski?
 

Pequenita

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#8
I don't know much about the Dukes, but I do know that not all AT bindings come with brakes, so if you want to ski in the resort, you'll want to make sure they have brakes or some other restraint (leashes). Tierras are going to be a bulky ski , and I agree, not the best for ungroomed terrain. Are you eager to get the bindings mounted? Otherwise, I would recommend skiing both the Kenjas and Tierras in ungroomed terrain to see which you prefer.
 

snow addict

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#10
Dukes are very heavy bindings for touring but for short hikes should be manageable. Regarding skis - whatever is the lightest and what you most comfortable with on ungroomed snow. Otherwise something with around 90-95 mm waist and light, e.g. 1.6 kilos per ski max. Not very long too, maybe 5cm off your height. Longer skis would be a pain on switchbacks and you don't want it in backcountry where it is often only one way to get somewhere and you need to make it without taking up more room for your maneuvering. Unlike normal alpine skiing this is where every extra centimeter counts.
 
#11
My boyfriend is a tele guy so really would rather be skinning and skiing backcountry stuff. Though he has humored me (and on the East coast there was no backcountry snow last year anyway!) and we've just been skiing resort for the last 2 years.
I've only ever been a resort skier, though I'm venturing into the glades more and more and I'm fairly comfortable in ungroomed snow. I'd like to start looking into getting Alpine Touring gear (I have decided I don't really want to make the switch to Tele).
Some questions:
1) Are there places that rent AT gear (New England or southern Quebec) so you can try it before investing in new bindings, new boots and skins?
2) For those that made the switch, did you go all in and get all new gear or did you work up to it...using something like alpine trekkers instead of getting new bindings or just loosening your boots to skin up if your current boots don't have walk/hike mode? Regarding boots, do you use a similar flex boot or go softer in the backcountry? Any other gear considerations e.g. are my volkl Kenja's ok or should I get a lighter/wider ski?

I know eventually I would need to take an avy course etc. but at this point we are talking skinning up resorts before opening or finding low angle glades in our local state park, so I'm thinking at least I can wait on getting stuff like avy beacons etc.
In N. Conway, I know that EMS will rent AT set-ups once there is enough snow on the ground. Down the street, IME often has used AT set-ups available- so definitely check them out. And then further down the street, Ragged Mountains carries one of the most extensive AT boot collections I've personally seen in the NE. If you're closer to NY, The Mountaineer in Keene is excellent. They rent AT setups as well. I believe their fleet are Voile and Kestle. I believe they do an early season demo day at Whiteface, and then the Adirondack Backcountry Fest is the first weekend of March. They tend to have demos from Black Diamond, Voile, Dynafit and few other companies.

I did what many of the other women stated... had an idea what I wanted and slowly acquired it over a few season. I knew I wanted a LIGHT, tech binding so first I got a pair of Dynafit Radicals while they were on sale at EMS one spring.. then I kept my eyes peeled for spring sales for the skis and boots. I ended up with BD Swift boots and BD Crescent skis. I like my set up. It's really light and tours nicely. Light is often key with an AT setup. The lighter it is, the less energy you expend going uphill which means the more laps you'll get in, which means more skiing fun :-) Also remember that unlike groomed snow... when you are skinning and skiing the snow will periodically accumulate on the top of your ski- depending on water content. So a heavy ski potentially becomes and even heavier ski....

Regarding brakes... from my experience, the only AT bindings that don't come with brakes are the super striped down rando-race bindings. They do have a leash clip that attaches to your boot in the case of an unanticipated release. The bigger thing is what size to buy the brakes in to fit on your skis.

Regarding boot flex- AT boots will always be softer. My AT boots are a 100 flex. My alpine boots are a 90. Granted different manufacturers, so that flex doesn't directly translate, but still- there is a VAST difference. It's a trade off with AT boots. The properties that make them lighter will generally also make them softer- and vice versa. I like what Dynafit is doing with a couple of their models though- having to different tongue inserts depending on if you are in ski or walk mode- get to the top- slide the stiffer tongue in- lock 'em down and away you go. But don't buy a softer boot for AT- if it has a walk mode, your range of motion comes from that and opening the buckles, not the flex of the boot.

Hope some of that helps!
 
#13
Note that these are slightly contradictory goals.
Not necessarily. The reason I dumped my first pair of touring skis was because they were heavy (1.75 kg/ski) and I couldn't manage them in ungroomed snow. They blasted through it, but took me along for the ride, and I couldn't muscle them out of trouble in less than perfect conditions. No issues on groomers though. I've been much happier on a lighter ski. I think it has more to do with finding a ski construction that works for the rider.

When I was ski shopping last year my criteria for being included for consideration were being <1.6 kg/ski and being around 100mm wide. I picked one that's just less than 1.6kg and my next top option was 1.44kg.
 
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snow addict

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#15
Note that these are slightly contradictory goals.
Why? You go as light as you are comfortable and achieve both goals within certain limits. Touring involves certain compromises anyway. Best skis for the uphill are rarely the best for the downhill, so it's all about finding this middle ground. For short tours you can sacrifice uphill, for longer climbs you sacrifice downhill as there is little point in having the best skis for your intended descent if you cannot reach it in time because skis are too heavy and you climb too slowly as a result.
 

altagirl

Moderator
Staff member
#16
Why? You go as light as you are comfortable and achieve both goals within certain limits. Touring involves certain compromises anyway. Best skis for the uphill are rarely the best for the downhill, so it's all about finding this middle ground. For short tours you can sacrifice uphill, for longer climbs you sacrifice downhill as there is little point in having the best skis for your intended descent if you cannot reach it in time because skis are too heavy and you climb too slowly as a result.
There is more to it than just weight of the setup, but my experience is more like bounceswoosh. I've had a nice light setup, but it was so miserable trying to ski back down that I was like what's the sense? I think I'd rather go snowshoeing.

I didn't stick with AT skiing for a number of reasons, but I owned a handful of setups and think it's with testing out various bindings to be sure you won't be utterly miserable in either direction.

Just like you said, it's a matter of finding the right balance.
 

snow addict

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
It really depends on what is touring to you. I have two set-ups now, one is with Chams 97, FT12 and regular alpine boots, which is good enough for certain descents where we ski from lifts but then to get back we need to skin for about an hour or a bit more, but for a proper touring 2+ hours climb I use a technical set up, which is about 3 lbs lighter per foot. Yes, the first set up skis better to me, but I won't get as far on it, and I do like getting far. There is something magical in touring when you are away and high, no resorts or lifts in sight, and to me this experience is worth sucking up a bit and skiing on gear which is probably not the most optimal. But when your ascent is 4 hours for one hour descent, the reasonable choice would be to maximize your efficiency and enjoyment for the longest part of your journey, then try to maximize the enjoyment on the downhill which you have yet to reach. Also, with longer tours when you start a descent the snow would have already started soften up in any case, so won't be all that difficult to negotiate on a lighter ski. I do feel the difference in how ski behaves and I am more aware of my weight distribution on my light touring gear, but it gets better slowly, though it does take changing a mindset a little. I now look at touring as a whole, as a separate activity, as the way to travel from A to B, to gain and lose vertical, on two planks, as the way to really get close to the mountains, and skiing in this case is just a skill that allows me to do it. For just the skiing part there is plenty of lift-served terrain or terrain just a short bootpack away. No need to exert oneself.

With snowshoeing you would need to carry skis on your back, good luck with that:smile: I think in snow it's better to have "worse" skis on one's feet than great skis on one's back.
 

bounceswoosh

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#18
To @snow addict 's point, it matters whether you plan to ski close to the edge of your ability level, where having skis you trust is most important, or whether you plan to ski more for the touring aspect, on terrain where you can afford to have less familiar/sturdy equipment.
 

marymack

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
Thank you all very much! So much to think about. Though I know the Dukes won't be ideal: 1. The price is right ($225 for the bindings plus ski for a binding that retails at $450), I can try it this year and not feel too bad if I decide I hate or when I decide I love it enough to invest in lighter gear. 2. The binding is plenty beefy to use in resort, so I'll still be able to ski a ski I love when not going touring . 3.I don't really see myself going on really long tours this year. Looking to try some skiing up resorts before they open and play around in the woods of the state parks near by if we get enough snow this year. I would love to do Cardigan Mountain in NH and maybe hike/skin up to the base of tucks and then ski down the Sherbie.
 

heather matthews

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
My touring set up is also my big snow day resort set up and my taking away on vacation overseas set up too.Scarpa Freedom boots,Marker Tour F10 and Rossi Savory.It isnt the lightest but all we ever do is a two or three laps(ariound500-600m vertical each),often at our local ski areas pre or post season and in the sidecountry. A proper tech. binding set up is tempting as my boots are compatible but I'm really not sure i would use it enough to justify the expense and it would concern me a little having a ski with less performance even though I do ski more conservatively in a backcountry setting.
 

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