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TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 1:11 pm
by tomba
Trip report: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Last two weekends I was cross-country skiing near Lake Tahoe.

I wanted to try what it takes to access backcountry on skis. Hopefully these experiences can help some beginners.

The first weekend was in Donner Pass area.

Saturday we went to Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort. I rented metal edge skis, even though metal edge was not really needed, because I wanted to try them out before using such skis in backcountry. 62/52/60mm width. With my son we went to Horseshoe loop near Devil's Peak. Going on wide groomed trails was easy, except the steepest sections. We tried a little off trail, not steep - it was OK.

Sunday I went to Round Valley near Castle Peak. See route. I rented similar skis from Tahoe Dave's. Soon going uphill became tough. Trail was narrow, icy, uneven, and steep in places. I had no skins, so going uphill was a struggle. People on snow shoes were passing me. At the steepest section before the top of the pass I took off my skis and walked next to the trail. Some other skiers were coming up going towards Castle Peak. They seemed to have alpine touring (AT) equipment with heel risers. With skins, of course.

After the pass, going down was difficult wherever there was not much room around the trail. It's hard to maneuver the skis to slow down. I saw on the map that the trail steepens as it arrives to Round Valley. So I left the trail to the right on what looked like a manageable slope with hopefully soft snow. As I skied down the sparsely wooded slope, I found that even there I pretty much could not turn these skis. The shoes were even softer and smaller than the day before. The groove easily popped from the ridge in the binding and when I turned my foot the shoe turned but the ski stayed straight. I ended up skiing in straight traverse sections, turning at the end of each switchback awkwardly, attempting not to slide down when my skis were not perpendicular to the fall line (a term I learned the next week). The snow had crust on top that broke under my weight which made controlling the skis harder. It was not snowing for many weeks, and the snow was old.

Once down in the valley it was nice and easy. In the Peter Grubb Hut there were many people, including someone playing a small backpacker guitar. There was cookware, backpacks, sleeping bags, clothes, etc. After exploring the valley I managed to climb up (again with awkward turns at switchbacks) and go down back to the SNO park. I took off skis 2 times going down, when I could not switchback around the somewhat steep trail.

Side room in Peter Grubb Hut.
I had skied cross country twice before, in Badger Pass area on medium difficulty trails (I even broke an unbroken trail there in a few days old snow - it's not that hard, but of course much slower), but this was much harder. It wasn't dangerous though. Any time I could simply take off skis and walk out.

Between weekends I did more research. I learned about kick-turn. Few inches of fresh snow fell. I rented telemark skis with fishscale pattern at the middle bottom (it seems that most telemark skis don't have it). 98/69/88 width. Fischer S-bound. I also rented skins.

The next weekend we went to Carson Pass area. Just like previous week, forecasted avalanche risk for Tahoe area was low. Hillmap slope analysis shows I would be away from areas with slope over 35 degrees.

Saturday I went south to Frog Lake and Winnemucca Lake. See route. Lakes are not very interesting in winter - simply a flat area of snow. I saw some people skiing down eastern side of Elephants Back. Weather was mostly cloudy with some snow sprinkles. I didn't have to use skins this day. Picture in another thread.

Winnemucca Lake
Sunday I went to Meiss Lake. See route. Soon I had to put skins on. Skins make climbing much easier. Skis with skins can go up pretty steep hills. Almost like long narrow snow shoes. I went up too high initially, following some tracks. I had to ski down before climbing the pass. I didn't want to fuss with skins so I skied down on skins. This may be a good way to slow down if slope is too steep. It was cold and windy morning. Some lifts at Kirkwood were stopped that morning due to wind. I wished my fleece hat could block the wind better. But it wasn't cold enough to put up a hood. After skinning up to the pass I removed skins and easily skied down to the valley. The wind died down and it became a nice sunny day, not cold at all.

In the southern end of the valley there were some people snow-camping. I toured the series of inter-connected meadows - very nice. I was the only person there - I saw only one set of fresh tracks going in opposite direction - someone left that area earlier that morning. It was a good trip.
Telemark bindings give much better control of skis. Turning is much easier - the skis actually follow the direction in which I want to turn. One doesn't have to know how to do telemark turn. The springs press the heel down, which helps to control the turns. Even though the heel is free to lift, the cables transfer lateral heel motion into ski to turn quite well. The force of the springs can be decreased by flipping the back lever down 90 degrees, which helps when touring on flat terrain or when climbing. Wider skis help prevent sinking too much when breaking a trail (which I was doing most of the time in the valley). I think that even wider skis would be better.

One down-side of telemark setup is the boots. They are heavy stiff boots without any flexibility to move the foot at the ankle joint. Similar to regular ski boots for downhill alpine skiing. This is heavy weight if one wanted to go for multi-day trip.

Are there any light-weight, more flexible telemark boots? Or AT boots? Or other binding systems that still give good ski control? Would BC binding work? I am afraid not, because they are similar to regular cross country bindings where turning of leg/foot doesn't transfer well to ski, because the shoe is too soft, especially in toe area where attached to the ski. What about SNS Pilot binding that has two rods?

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Sun Mar 03, 2013 10:19 pm
by paul
Tomba - Sounds like you had some very educational outings. I'm curious what make and model tele boots you rented. They do vary in stiffness. The boots I have (Garmont Excursions) are about the softest, but still fairly stiff. Unfortunately there is a wide gulf between them and the next step down, which would be fabric/leather 75mm boots. I wish I had something a little lighter and more flexible but still a plastic boot, since the plastic boots are so great when it comes to staying dry on a week-long tour in wet spring snow. Unfortunately, nobody makes such an animal. The bindings make a difference as well - I use simple 3-pins, which are extremely reliable, light, and have a little more freedom of movement than cable bindings, and somewhat less control - though plenty for most touring.

You can also go the AT route, and you can actually get a lighter setup that way than light tele stuff, but it will cost ya!

I don't know of anyone who does multi-day tours with nnn-BC or the Salomon bindings. Probably doable for a really skilled skier, but I doubt the reliability of those bindings myself.

If you can find a place that rents them, you might try one of the fabric/leather boots to see how it works for you. The beefiest I have heard of are these: ... agpspn=pla" onclick=";return false;" onclick=";return false; ... g-ski-boot" onclick=";return false;" onclick=";return false;

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 9:56 pm
by tomba
Thanks for the information.

The boots were Crispi CXA. Bindings were G3 Targa with a leash. Rented from Outback Adventures - the only place I found in Bay Area (southern part) that rents telemark equipment.

(click for larger image)

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 11:23 pm
by paul
So those Crispis are a bit beefier (but not a lot) than Excursions or ScarpaT4s - and probably than a Scarpa T3. And you'd have a little easier flex skiing them in a 3-pin binding instead of the Targas.

Yeah, not too many places to rent that stuff,especially in the Bay Area. In Truckee, you could try The Backcountry - they might have some stuff." onclick=";return false;

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 8:03 pm
by Vaca Russ
Hey Tomba,

Do you know Alberto? :)

Thanks for your detailed post. My GF and I routinely downhill ski. We love downhill but really want to get in more backcountry skiing.

We seem to be having the same problem you have. There are not many places (except around Tahoe) to rent the equipment. I have been advised to, and really do believe we should rent the equipment to find out what works for us. We rented some Scarpa AT boots and they really did some damaged to our feet. They were not a good fit. :(

We liked the skis with the metal edges. We ski downhill already so it was natual. We also used skins and know that we wouldn't go into the backcountry without them.

I hope others can give us more advise on backcountry ski equipment. :) :)



Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:20 pm
by John Dittli

I've done some backcountry skiing over the years. I use both "telemark" equipment and light weight AT gear. I learned to ski on "freeheel" tele gear so I can ski downhill equally well on both. For people with lift base downhill experience, the cross over to AT gear in regard to downhill control in the backcountry is the easiest.

Beyond that, I personally prefer my tele setup for backcountry touring and use my Dynafit AT setup for ski mountaineering. For the simple reason I find the tele setup more efficient and less "futzy" than the AT, especially in rolling terrain that requires a lot of transitions from "touring" to "downhill".

Paul was right on re: NNNbc type systems; they are to light weight for backcountry touring unless one is an experienced skier, skiing on spring "corn" snow.

My touring setup consists of an Excursion/T4 type boot, a light weight toe pivot cable binding (Voile Switchback), a widish, waxless, metal edge ski (Madshus Annum), edge to edge skins. (I used three pin bindings for many decades but prefer the tip rise afforded by the pivot type binding, specially when breaking trail in deep snow). I used leather boots for a couple of decades too, but prefer the dryness and comfort of a light plastic boot.

Waxless skis lack the downhill performance of a highend downhill ski, but the convenience of not having to put on skins for every little uphill far out weighs that small downhill edge (IMHO).

My AT setup is a two buckle boot (pretty much equivalent to the touring boot) a light Dynafit binding and a wider ski (Dynafit Stoke). This works well for long ups followed by long downs. The boot soles are also rigid with no bellows in the upper, they work much better for "booting" or kicking steps/cramponing up steep snow.

I hope that helps out some.


Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:46 pm
by paul
Given the few places that rent the gear, it can be tough to try things out. So if you find that is too hard to pull off or just don't have time for it, here are my thoughts on taking the plunge into buying some gear.
First off, you need to decide what you mostly want to do. Is it day tours, with maybe an overnight now and then? Or is is multi-day trips? Are you a good downhill skier who wants to ski some backcountry slopes,or are you basically a hiker who wants to get around in the snow?

If it's day tours you are into,and you plan to stick with mellow terrain, then I'd go for a fabric/leather boot and 75mm 3-pin binding. Overnight trips are doable,maybe even some longer trips, but staying dry for the duration of a multi-day trip will probably be an issue. And longer trips will almost by definition involve more challenging terrain; there are just not many places where you can go for 5 days and stay on mellow terrain the whole time. Skis are easier, in my mind. A good waxless , light metal-edge ski will be very versatile - you can have fun on a little day tour and also cross the Sierra on them.

If it's longer trips you are aiming to do, I'd go plastic boots. The lightest plastic 75mm boots are not that much heavier than the beefiest leather or fabric/leather boots, and they will stay dry and warm for the whole trip, plus you will have substantially more downhill control, especially important when you are carrying a pack. ScarpaT3 and T4, and Scott (formerly Garmont) Excursion are the boots to look at. I'd go heat-moldable liners, even if you have to get them aftermarket. They are lighter, warmer, drier, and more comfortable. I would still get a 75mm 3-pin binding; I think cables are overkill, unless you are serious about downhill and then I'd say go AT anyway.

If you are a good downhill skier and you want to go into the backcountry for the down more than for the scenery, then I'd go AT. Dynafit bindings and light boots and you can have gear lighter than telemark, plus releasability.

One thing I would keep in mind is that if you get a pair of skis like the Madshus Eon or Epoch, the Fischer S-bound 88, the Salomon XADV 89 or the Atomic Rainer, and put 75mm 3-pin bindings on them, you can then choose from a wide range of boots. So if you get a lighter boot to start with,and then decide you want more control, you can keep the skis and get new boots, and then you'll have a choice of boots depending on the outing you have in mind. or if you start with the beefier boots you can always get lighter boots later, and again the skis still work.

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 12:06 pm
by fishmonger
John Dittli wrote: Beyond that, I personally prefer my tele setup for backcountry touring and use my Dynafit AT setup for ski mountaineering. For the simple reason I find the tele setup more efficient and less "futzy" than the AT, especially in rolling terrain that requires a lot of transitions from "touring" to "downhill".

I have a pair of Voile Vector BC ski with AT bindings - bascially best of both worlds. For the rolling terrain, I don't have to worry about skins as it has a no-wax fishscale base like a cross country ski, but it runs on a fat 96mm touring ski waist, so it floats on almost anything, slides easily wihtout the skins, and climbs up minor slopes without having to put skins on. Some people claim they are "slower" on the downhill runs, but that's just perfect with me.

I haven't done much on skins here in the flat country, but given I want to do the Muir Trail on ski, I started looking for an optimum setup that would handle low angle slopes most efficiently without constant mode swaps, and the new breed fishcale base touring/tele skis are perfectly suited for that. Using AT bindings, I can convert into a proper downhill mode when needed. Skins stay drier, too, not having to keep them on the ski all day long.

Also, never having spent much time on telemark gear (only my first steps on ski were on tele ski in army leather boots), for me a binding system with proper downhill mode and locked heels was the only way I felt comfortable with when I got back into skiing a few years ago.

Are these bindings "futzy?" Well, I have some of the older Dynafit Vertical ST bindings that are difficult to get used to at first. It took me a while to learn where to put my toes to step in, but after a while you get the feel for it. The newest Dynafit bindings have a redesigned toe piece and are virtually step-in bindings, but they cost too much for me to bother with an upgrade now that I am familiar with the original type. I actually use Binding Freedom inserts in my ski to use the same old binding on both sets.

My decision process on what to use to ski the Sierra backcountry went like this:

- needs to work like a downhill ski, since that's what I knew --> AT bindings
- needs to be lightweight --> Dynafit bindings and boots
- needs to be efficient on rolling terrain --> fishscale base on AT ski, boots with really good walk mode

My setup now is the Voile Vector BC, Dynafit Vertical ST bindings, Dynafit TLT 5 boots with Intiution liners, BD climbing skins for the steep stuff. Contemplating to get a set of ski crampons, but I will most likely walk sketchy sections with crampons on my boots and ice axe in hand anyway, so this may just be dead weight in the pack.

As for cost - AT gear can get very expensive if you walk into a ski shop and buy the latest carbon-titanium gizmo gear off the shelf, but if you do your research and look for used or end of season closeouts, it isn't that bad. I also do a lot myself that others leave up to shops (mount bindings, bake boot liners, etc), which saves money, too, plus I feel more comfortable going into the backcountry knowing how my stuff works. Around here, I have no other choice - nobody has ever seen my AT stuff in the Midwest.


Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:25 pm
by paul
Peter - Here is my thinking on ski crampons: Any slope that I would use them on (i.e., too steep for skins and icy) is one I probably wouldn't be comfortable skiing down, I'd be booting it with crampons on. So I don't have ski crampons. For a better skier that equation is different, but I think it's a good way to look at it.

Re: TR: Ski day trips near Tahoe, ski reviews and questions.

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2013 11:17 pm
by fishmonger
The thing about it is that I probably won't go down what I go up - it's the other side of the pass I plan to go down, where the snow will probably be different. The only time these ski crampons are useful is when the snow has an icy crust on top that doesn't support your weight in boots, but is too hard for skins to work. Probably a situation where some patience and a nice long coffee break can resolve the dilemma as well.