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XC Touring newbie questions

Discussion about winter adventure sports in the Sierra Nevada mountains including but not limited to; winter backpacking and camping, mountaineering, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, etc.
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XC Touring newbie questions

Postby mauhler31 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:22 pm

I've been searching around the web for answers but haven't really found anything definitive, so I thought I would try to compose all my questions here.

I consider myself to be a strong intermediate downhill skier (no backcountry ski experience), but I've only gone classic XC skiing 3-4 times at the groomed tracks, so my technique is still poor. My main aspiration is to eventually be able to do some short multi-day trips (2-4 days) to the backcountry huts or snow camp. Some likely destinations include the Peter Grubb Hut, Pear Lake, or the areas near Badger Pass. At least for now, I don't see myself interested in going into very steep terrain or deep powder conditions.

My questions are:
1. Do I need to practice more in the groomed runs to improve my technique or can I just go out on some of the gentler ungroomed trails?
2. Gear: Full backcountry skis, or one of those thinner hybrid ones that can still fit in the track? Is there a width range I should be looking for? It sounds like the hybrid ones are just mediocre at both applications and not great for either. I don't know how important it is for me to be able to ski in the track. At least at Badger Pass, the trails start off on groomed track.
3. Do I need to consider different ski lengths? One for day skiing and one for trips with a pack?
4. Should I stick to rentals until my technique improves? It looks difficult to rent BC skis.
5. What technique is used in backcountry xc skiing? It mostly sounds like the classic technique, but I have seen a few references to skating in the spring snow.
6. Assuming the winter survival skills, at what ski technique level would I be able to go on an outing to some of these places?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!



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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby rlown » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:31 pm

well. No recent experience, but i own two pair of Karhu's both 215cm based on my weight plus my pack. they are 2 1/8" wide The Kodiaks are 1/3 edged and the GT's are full edged. I upgraded from the 1/3 edge after the first trip. both are equipped for skins even though they do have the fish scale bottoms. I have 3 pin bindings.

I never downhill skied before i went this route. I'm not a need for speed freak.

I never did the tracks before my main trips on skis. The first trip was out of Loon Lk so it was pretty tame and on the Kodiaks. I decided full edge would be better for icy conditions, like skiing back across a frozen lake, and landing on my butt a few times. Also did a trip from Castle Peak down to Truckee on those (got lots of good off trail practice).

On the GT's, my first trip was up 120 East from the gate and into YNP. A multi day trip. Lots of fun except for that lil' uphill part in 60mph headwinds in the middle of winter. I spent most of the days just learning what to do on those contraptions. Only face planted a few dozen times, but it was a very good experience, even if i popped out an eyeglass lense a time or two.

Dittli might be the guy to chime in on equipment choice or the others here that do trans-sierra route in winter.

I would say you need to learn your alpine xc skills outside of the tracks.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:49 pm

Badger would be a great place to go take some lessons and experiment - rent x country skis and take a group lesson, rent backcountry skis and take a lesson, rent telemark gear and take a lesson. Talk to the pros and see how it goes for you with the different skis.

I took a backcountry ski lesson - I quickly deduced that I am at my best and healthiest on snowshoes at this point in my life. :rolleyes:

I was unable to sign up for telemark, as they insisted that I have prior downhill or backcountry ski experience and I could not say that... Telemark is something you do if you have skiing background. Badger is the only west slope resort that gives lessons in telemark. If you were wanting to do a lot more in the backcountry trans sierra, it sounded to me like backcountry or telemark would be the way to go.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby rlown » Mon Mar 17, 2014 6:58 pm

what she said. :)

the hardest part for me during my "learnings" was i couldn't judge the "bumps" on the downhill on consolidated snow with a 40lb pack, so i would inevitably face plant. It wasn't so bad on those slopes with powder and doing the turns to play out the speed.

good luck with your endeavor. Of course, you need to do the snow dance given current conditions.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:05 pm

OF COURSE after I post that, Badger closes for the season.

:lol:
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby mauhler31 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:31 pm

Thanks for the responses! I was mostly wondering if there are any major differences in ski skills between BC and track skiing for the destinations I am aiming for. I'll plan to take some lessons at Badger next season. An instructor would definitely be able to answer my questions and help me figure out the skills I need to go to these places.

At this moment, I haven't considered telemark due to the weight, but I could look into it if these routes are steeper than what BC xc skis can handle. At least for backcountry skiing, I'm not aiming for good downhills, just trying to extend my hiking into the winter/spring.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby paul » Tue Mar 18, 2014 5:09 pm

my answers to your questions:
1) If by "groomed runs" you mean prepared nordic tracks, then no. If you mean groomed runs at a downhill resort, then I say yes, as that is a good way to practice your downhill skills. And getting out on some ungroomed terrain is also a good idea, because that's what you'll be on later.

2) What you want is most likely about the narrowest full metal edged skis you can get. What I use are Atomic Rainers - don't know if they are still made, but they are about 88mm at the tip, 60 at the waist, 78 at the tail. Similar size skis will work well for what you want to do - they'll be a little wide for any prepared tracks, but you won't be in tracks much from what you describe. These types of skis are referred to by various names - XCD, backcountry, metal-edged touring. Boots/bindings - you'll probably be okay with either 3-pins and fabric/leather boots or the beefiest NNN-BC boots you can find. If you ever get into longer tours you'll end up wanting to go plastic but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

3) One ski will do ya. And if in doubt, go shorter. Shorter skis will generally grip better and glide a little less, and you'll find that you almost never swear loudly about how your skis are gliding.

4) Rentals are great if you can find any.

5) The main technique is the shuffle. When you are carrying a pack technique is not a big deal, especially if you don't set ambitious goals about how far you expect to get. Just have fun. Skating is mostly for perfect snow conditions and highly skilled practitioners. You have to be a real athlete to skate with a multi-day pack on.

6) Ski skills are third in line. Snow camping skills are first, then navigation. Skiing skill only affects where you can go and how far, and even there it's more about how far. I have skied across the Sierra and I do not consider myself a good skier. In easy terrain and for a short distance even a total beginner can handle the skiing part. What's important is know what you can and can't handle. Trying to ski down a slope that is beyond your skills is a big mistake, you are asking to get hurt. Don't be too proud to take the skis off and walk down - or up for that matter.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby mauhler31 » Tue Mar 18, 2014 7:47 pm

Thanks Paul! I've got a few follow up questions if you don't mind.

1. Do you mean practice at a downhill resort on xc skis? For some of the places I mentioned, would there be any substantial downhill portions that require telemark or parallel turning? Or would a snow plow or step turn work?

2. I've seen a few full length metal edge skis out there with < 70mm max width, like the Rossignol BC 70. Would I need the wider skis for more stability when carrying a pack? For the Atomic Rainers you mentioned, it at least sounds like turning would be much easier compared to the thinner ones. But would the larger sidecut signficantly compromise the straight ability? I guess for the places I mentioned, the mileage isn't very high, so perhaps this is ok.

6. I understand snow survival and navigation skills are the most important when going out into the backcountry. I was just curious if any of the destinations I listed require some intermediate-advanced techniques to avoid having to take off the skis and walk/snowshoe all the time.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby paul » Wed Mar 19, 2014 3:03 pm

You can snowplow just about anywhere you want to go. I don't telemark at all, I ski parallel or snowplow or somewhere in between depending on slope, conditions, etc. But regardless of how you turn, practicing on a groomed slope with your touring gear is a good idea. As is finding a nice slope close to the road and going up and down it all day.

I've never felt like having more sidecut make my skis wander out of a straight line much. The skis I had previously had much less sidecut but did not seem to wander less - they were just way harder to turn. Some folks seem to find that an issue. I do think wider is more stable with a pack on, and that can mean less fatigue. Most people who do tours similar to what I've done use wider skis than I do, so don't think I'd go skinnier.

For getting to the Grubb Hut you don't need much downhill skill. The slopes from the saddle down to the hut are pretty gentle. Coming out the route from the saddle to the road is usually so trashed by postholers and snowshoers that you may want to walk anyway, especially if it's icy at all.
I haven't been to the Pear Lake hut but looking a the map there is some steeper stuff to go down, but only on the way out. Wouldn't be that big of a deal to have to walk part of that unless is was really soft. The issue for an less experienced skier is more likely to be whether you move fast enough going in to make it to the hut before dark. Shorter and easier tours to begin with will give you a feel for how far you can comfortably go in a day, plus you'll get faster on the flats and uphills as you gain experience.

One good spot to start out is up by Carson Pass. You can go south from the pass to Winnemucca and Round Top lakes, or north to Meiss Lake and Showers Lake. Either way it's mellow terrain and not too far, and nice scenery. There will be folks around since it's a popular spot for day tours.
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Re: XC Touring newbie questions

Postby mauhler31 » Wed Mar 19, 2014 4:37 pm

Thanks for all the advice! I'll probably spend most of next season at Badger to try out the various rentals and maybe also try a short easy trip to Dewey Point. I'll take a look at the Carson pass area too.

I like your downhill suggestion as well. If it's an El nino year then I may be spending a lot of time at the downhill resorts so using touring skis will spice things up.
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