Pageviews past week

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mountain travel?

One thing that became glaringly obvious to me in Chamonix climb there in winter you need to ski.   And not just get by skiing but really ski.  Walk like you ski and ski like you walk kind of skiing.

I keep up on Colin's blog.  Paid attention to but didn't really clue in on the skiing.  I figured, "Chamonix...when I couldn't climb, I'd ski".  How bad can it be to be me ;-)

I've spent months at a time on skis, with a pack, a bomb or even a full size grain shovel.  But I haven't been into skiing for a while now.

This blog started with a totally different title.  I had intended the comments to high light some of the newest gear available for BC skiing.  But the truth is skiing is just another skill, like belaying or using an ice axe that anyone that really wants to climb mountains needs to know.  The Europeans have known that from the beginning.  Their environment demands it.   Two major dangers in the mountain snow pack, avalanche and crevasses.  Sure you can climb without skiing.  But you'll never be an Alpinist.

My first real AT boots were a pair of plastic Trappeurs with a Vibram sole.  Not the best sole for a decent release in a DH binding of that era.  (circa 1980)  My skis were 190cm Rossignol Alp 3000.  Fat, wide and short for the day.  Loved those skis. But not the panche or speed of the 207 SMs, just more fun generally. Only the AT binding set ups kept them from being a amazing bit of gear.  To be honest one of my reasons for the lack of excitement in skiing the last decade or so was the lack of gear that was up to the technology available.

I still hadn't seen anything to impress me for lwt mtn travel past Ned Gillete's Epoke 900s and 50mm bindings.  We used that gear up to 14K on Denali for over a decade.  Great for mileage...not so good on the down hill.  But still way better than walking.  Easier to carry the climbing boots than ski in them.

So after skiing for a month and then doing the high traverse off the GM and over to the  north face of le Droites in my Spantiks and a pair 180cm of BD Aspects I was well aware of the limitations of my skill and my gear that day.  Embarrassing so...and imo dangerous.

I am seldom intimidated on a pair of skis or by terrain.  Kinda goes with the the knucklehead idea of  "water hard can it be?"    That morning I came to the conclusion one could be easily killed just getting to a climb in Chamonix.  It as the first time that the thought had occurred to me after all the talk and previous incidents and the heartfelt discussions.   This while everyone else in the basin that morning whipped by me on AT boots and generally shorter skis.   By the time I got to the face any notion of actually climbing (it or anything else) was drained away by each patch of bare glacier ice traverse, one kick turn and each open crevasse at a time.  Places most sane people would be roped up on.  But no one ropes up in Chamonix for the "normal" runs.  And this is a ski run commonly skied by locals or guided for the tourists.  Tourists like me..

The thought of actually climbing in AT boots (which I have detested for several reasons) at that point seemed like a reasonable and much healthier option if you didn't first end up in the bottom of a crevasse just getting there. (to be fair way fewer rescues in the Argentiere than the Vallee Blanche it that is any consolation)

I had great beta and a plan for the climb.  Only the approach and decent were stopping me.  When I asked one of my acquaintances their suggestion after having just done the route again for the umpteenth time...the only suggestion offered was "take skis up and over".

Ya, I was fooked at that point.  Out of psyche, out of time and out of my league.  
I have never been stopped on a climb because of my gear selection.  But I have questioned my own choice in gear and what I could have done better while on route many times.  I prefer not to do that on climbs I suspect will be challenge enough with out extra weight on my back and some funky boots to climb in. 

More to come on this subject but now you know why I have been looking at the AT ski blogs more closely.
Right now I headed out to go bc skiing for the day.   A renewed passion.

Here is an idea of where I suspect to eventually be going. (and I'd bet the sport of climbing and skiing does as well)

Photo courtesy of Colin Haley @


Jared said...

Hi Dane. I've been drawn to your blog because I also want to be an Alpinist with a capital "A." I'm strong on skiing, but weak on climbing. You've provided me with some helpful beta.

Figuring out how to climb with skis has been a journey in and of itself. I doubt that climbing in the TLT style boots will be like climbing in Baturas, but I guarantee you your experience will be different from other clunky AT boots.

Anyway, I'll shoot you an email if you want to talk lwt ski gear. Might be able to save your some angst and pennies.

Dane said...

Jared that would be awesome. Please do. I have been search your and Andy's blogs for the gear details. I tried on the TLT Performance and Mtns the other day for fit. And to see what I thought of them as climbing boots. No qeustion they should ski! Damn! I was really impressed with the support. Easily the equal or better than my BD Primes. Climbing technical ground in them might well be an aquired taste. But at least I can visualizs it. I wouldn't in the Prime. I should know soon enough. Big plans ;-)

ryanb said...

La sportiva's new ski boots look like they could make a sweet ski/climbing boot to.

Dane said...

Ryan, I agree. I've not been a big fan of "modern" AT boots for climbing for all the obvious reasons. I think Dynafit has changed the game and no question La Sportiva is in there now as well.

I mentioned to the Dynafit rep that AT the least the best ones, could well change the game in alpine climbing just as Kolflach did back in the early '80s. Time will tell if that comes true. For my part I am about to jump in with both feet :-)

SLC sherpa said...

Hey Dane,

Thanks for the insights, you bring up a lot of issues most climbers never really think about or understand.

Regarding gear, I'm sure I'd offer similar reviews as Jared, but where we differ is in how much I've broken compared to him. He's just a little guy. I'm more "normal sized" and have broken a Dynafit DNA boot buckle (rendering it rather unskiable), a low tech toe piece (Dynafit replaced it), and a Trab binding (both toe and heel piece on separate occasions). Although the Trab binding was recalled for exactly those issue that arose. Some compromise may be necessary.

We are both experimenting a bit and "pushing" the edge gear wise by trying to adapt rando racing gear to ski mountaineering. This ranges from full race gear that we have both used on many adventures to light Dynafit skis such as the Broad Peak and the Nanga Parbat with race bindings. By skiing ultra light, short, skinny skis, one adapts and it doesn't seem so silly. Plus, it makes the technical climbing easier (less weight and length). And, the newfound efficiency is eye opening.

I'd be interested to hear how you think the TLTs climb. I spent a day at Ouray in them and a day in normal mountaineering boots and didn't notice much difference...but I'm kind of a hack.

I'm sure Jared has answered any questions about lycra and skinny skis that you might have had, but feel free to email any time.

Jon Rhoderick said...

Is the Silveretta 500 binding still the most practical binding for pure approach skis or are there benefits to fritschis (which have been used with fitting mtneering boots)or entire dynafit + tech boot (and carrying additional mtneering boots) setups?

Dane said...

Thanks Adrew. I have still have some questions. Still collecting info. I'll get back to you ;-)

Jon? At least locally or what I would use in Canada and Alaska "approach" skis have a different definition than what I want in the Alps next winter.

I could give you a quick answer but I have a bunch of stuff I want to try first and then I'll do a few blogs on what I find.

Lots of potential out there but what I'd like to have instead of a quiver of skis and boots is a set up I could use the majority of places I'll go and climb.

Will Sim (a blog I follow) was using a pair of 6000s and lwt AT skis with Silvetta iirc and doing just fine on them. I was looking for a combo that skied a bit better with less effort ;-)

Jon Rhoderick said...

I too want just one set up, for cheapness and ease of travel. I think all the current options are pretty poor compromises you definitely have to choose climbing or skiing performance. One idea I've been mulling over is creating a crampon-like underfoot boot plate with a dynafit toe piece. It would allow flat touring in mtneering boots for approach and dynafit AT skiing with AT boots when skiing is the goal of the day

Dane said...

Jon, Great minds think alike. A number of folks have asked me to make something similar. I haven't.

I suspect with the Dynafit patents now available we'll see some climbing dbl boots with the Dynafit pins in the toes. Baruntse with its solid mid sole would be a great place ot start. Surprised something wasn't available alst OR show actually.

I've been doing a lot of reading on plastic boots which I don't think have been looked at as a mtn boot for awhile now. Koflach's offering are a good example.

The new La Sportiva and Dynafit ski boots might well be game changers if development along those lines continues.

From what I see there is so little skiiing/climbing over lap that it may take awhile for all that to happen.

Cosmin Andron said...

Hi Dane!

Just got back into skiing about 3-4 years ago after a long (15 years) hyatus myself. Much has changed since and had to re-learn the game by being thrown in the deep end...

For ice climbs and gullies i doubt an AT boot will be that different from a climbing boot. May even get better support and less calf fatigue...

My setup for when skiing matters as much as the climb is Movement Spark skis + Dynafit Speed + Dynafit Zzero C4 (light but sturdier than TLT and enough buckles to account for blowed-up one)

Initially i wanted to go with Diamir bindings (to get the option of skiing in Spantiks) but then I also wanted a setup that will allow me to ski well.... so listened to some suggestions from friends and went for the lighter Speed setup. I can't ski for s.... in climbing boots anyway... not enough to be worth it the pain, anyway.... For climbs where i really need Spantiks/Baturas etc skis will probably remain at the bottom anyway and i think the trade-off of carrying the boots in my backpack is worth it.

Brad said...

Dane, if this is a redundant question, I'm sorry and please direct me to the bog post that covers it. . . I am headed to Denali next May and was planning on using snowshoes, until a recent decision to put together an AT setup for use here in Tahoe. I will be using a Frische binding. I own a pair of La Sportiva Baruntse's, and I have read that the Spantiks are compatible with the frische's. A couple of questions: 1) do you know of any binding setup in which you could use the Baruntse? and 2) seeing as how the Baruntse probably wouldn't ski very well anyway, would you recommend just putting the Baruntes's in the sled and caching my AT boots with my skis? I would much rather ski when I can on Denali, I just don't know if I actually can with the Baruntse, nor whether the weight savings of not taking AT boots is even worth it if trying to ski in them is going to be too difficult. Thanks for all the great info! - Brad

Dane said...

Brad, no worries,

Here is my take on skis for Denali.

Asuuming you are even a beginner skier.

Forget the snow shoes up front. THEY SUCK! BTDT twice on Denali.

The skiing is moderate for the most part. It is a huge beginners slope from the strip to 11,000'. The last 6 times I have been on the mountain and likely will do the same this spring is skinny skis and lwt ankle boots NNN or three pins to 11,000, climbing boots on my sled. Ditch the skis and boots there and walk up, Windy corner unless you are in real AT gear is dangerious and no fun.

Other option depending on what I am doing and time involved is may be a TLTP and dynafits and short mtn skis to 14K and do some real skiing above 14. Even then I'd still do a lot of walking in my boots and crampons to get there.

Leave your skis at 11K is my suggestion. It aint worth it taking them higher. No way I would take a heavy AT set up past the air strip unless you just want to torture yourself. Skinny and lwt gear or super light AT gear which starts with dynfit bindings. Spantiks and Baruntse will truly SUCK to ski have better choices now, once you hit the Kahiltna you are screwed :)

Don't be afraid to ask questions if you want more info.

Brad said...


Thanks for the reply.

I am a good skier but am new to the AT game. I'm not interested in skiing Denali as an activity so I am intrigued by your skinny ski setup. Are you using actual cross country gear? If so, are you cutting skins for your skis? Can you post a list of the actual skis and boots you used the last couple of years (or something similar) so I can get a good idea of what to look for. Are you doing anything special with the boots to make them warmer or have you found that 11k and below is warm enough?

As always, thanks for the help.


Brad said...


So after a lot of research and searching I came across a couple of pairs of tele skis that may be a good choice. They are 2005 Atomics, both have skins, both 160cm, one is 70mm underfoot and another is 80mm. Both are quite light and cheap at 50 bucks a pair. I figure I can slap a $100 set of Silvretta 404's on them and call it a day for $150 and manage skiing in the Baruntse's. I only care about ease of travel, I won't skiing as a separate activity on Denali. Of course the Silvretta 500's are lighter but I'm not sure about the weight vs cost ratio for me. At 5'8" and 145 I could certainly go down to the 140cm-150cm range but 160 is not exactly long for me either and they are available.

These days "skinny skis and short skis" can mean so many things with how long and fat peoples sticks are getting. What is your opinion on a setup like the one above for base to 11k on Denali? Would you go a whole lot shorter? What is your opinion on width?

I think I am finally on my way to zeroing in on a good system!

Thanks for the advice.


Dane said...

I wouldn't ski to 11K in mtn boots. I'd use (have used) xc touring boots with half skins duct taped on. Lighter, easier and way more fun. Put your boots on the sled with your pack.

Chalets in Chamonix said...

A brilliant blog that describes the challenges and wonders of skiing and climbing. Keep your passion alive. Good job too for choosing Chamonix as your ski destination.