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Beginner ski-mountaineering


Original Post
Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

I’m looking to get into ski-mountaineering and am looking for advice on a setup. I live in the Dolomites and have access to wonderful trails and waterfalls under a mile from me. To keep fit and access some of the more remote areas I’d like to start using skis and skins. What I don’t know is if I should get mountaineering boot bindings or ski boot bindings or really anything about the topic at all. I’ve done some research but don’t want to rely on sponsored or paid advert review people. So. What do y’all use and like?

sandrock · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 115

get ski boots with Tech bindings. The technology has advanced so far that you can climb WI4 in ski boots now a days.  If you're a resort skier already you don't have to re-learn how to Teliski either.

JonasMR · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 8

I'd say Tech bindings as well for the least loss of fun over the whole day (up and down).  Careful you don't over-tighten the heel bail on your crampon though, the top of the rear lug on Tech boots can break.

Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

Could you name some boots or bindings you favor? And good point I won’t have to relearn how to teleski. I have to learn to ski first. So. There’s that. Thanks for your input though I’ll check some out.

Not to sound too stupid but I live on gorgeous mountains and am kicking myself for not taking advantage. So I was thinking I could skin up on the off pista area I live next to and ski down teaching myself progressively. It’s a safe low grade area. 

sandrock · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 115

I have the G3 Ion 10 bindings and La Sportiva Starlet boots. Bindings you want something light and reliable. For boots, go to the store and try on every pair and buy the ones that fit right for your feet. 


the best way to learn how to ski is spend a season or two at the resorts every weekend. You will not learn to ski quickly enough by skinning up and skiing down because you just can't get the volume in compared to riding the lifts.  If I were you I'd buy a used pair of resort skis/boots and spend a whole season just skiing at the resort before venturing into the backcountry.

Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

Makes sense, I live on a ski trail with access to 100km of trails. One of the bigger Italian resorts. I figured I’d get the bonus of fitness going uphill and learning going downhill but you make a very good point about volume. I’ll check out the gear you listed as well as the resort gear. It’s end of season so I’m sure they’re hocking stuff. For reference this is what I had been thinking of practicing on. That bowl is very gentle.

DavisMeschke Guillotine · · Pinedale, WY · Joined Oct 2013 · Points: 215

Being near France, I'd go with a Plum Race binding. Light, all-metal and durable. Black Crows (based in Cham) makes great, stiff ski mountaineering skis. Stick with the Navis or the Orb. I use the Orb, Plum Race 150 bindings, and a TLT 6 boot. Can't get much lighter than that without going full race. I personally don't like brakes or leashes.

I don't agree with getting a full season of resort before venturing into the backcountry. I've become a much better skier by putting myself solely in the backcountry, learning how to ski variable snow conditions and steeper terrain than you'd ever find at a resort. Skiing groomers all the time does not help you ski breakable crust, or styrofoam snow, or refrozen crud, etc. The afroementioned conditions are what you find 80% of the time in the backcountry, especially in the Dolomites, where climate change is raising the freezing altitude at an already low-altitude mountain range.

Light is right, whatever you end up doing. Trial and error as well; go out and figure out what works best. Fine tune your gear to match your objectives and enjoy the process.

JonasMR · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2016 · Points: 8

I'd agree with sandrock about skiing inbounds on cheapo skis first, especially if you are new to skiing generally.  But if you're fairly sure you want to end up in the back country, I'd say buy good boots at the start.

If you're fairly confident in your downhill skiing and want a randonee ski/binding, I'd ask locally.  Alps snow is not the same thing as continental Rockies snow, and different brands are cheaper in the US vs. Europe.  I'd have said Dynafit boots, bindings, and skins; but you'd probably get better advice by going to a local alpine club meeting.

sandrock · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 115

Yes good point on US v Euro. My setup works for Colorado but I have no idea about skiing in Italia. And damn you're lucky you live where you are! That looks like a nice slope, you can always skin a few laps for the exercise then lift ski the rest of the day to work on technique. 


Davis I agree with you about learning how to ski in variable conditions you will not find at the resorts. I just think you'd want to get good volume on groomers to learn basic technique first.  In the end as long as you're getting out regularly either at the resort or BC you'll learn.

Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

I think all three of you make good points, and thank you for you input. Have you got thought on bindings for technical boots? Ie g2sm, scarpa phantom techs etc

Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

To sand rock - thanks I’m not sure if you can see it but there’s also 2 ice waterfalls in the picture. It’s an ideal place and I need to take more advantage of it.


Good point on swapping styles for the max hours on skis

sandrock · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 115

I think the only bindings that work for technical ice boots like the G2s are Silveretta bindings. Which they stopped making in the late 90s? You can usually find them used for $150 on ebay or in used gear shops.  

Maybe there are other options though, I could be wrong.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Richard Ross wrote:

I live in the Dolomites and have access to wonderful trails and waterfalls under a mile from me.

Visiting some nice trails and waterfalls is likely not the same thing as what most serious skiers in Europe call "ski-mountaineering".

Anyway this is not a great time in human history to be starting into ski mountaineering -- with the warming that has been hitting the European mountains in recent years. There's just way less days of good skiing, and in some regions way less skiing of any quality at all. So it helps if you have a career that gives you lots of flexibilituy to get out on the few good days, and the will and means to drive a car substantial distances to where the good conditions are in a particular week or season.

The Dolomites are not very high-altitude, so ski-mountaineering there is impacted big by the warming. I do much of my ski-mountaineering in the northern French Alps, with lots more high-altitude options.
. . . (also the Dolomites lift-served ski resorts are mostly not so good for off-piste, so nowhere near as good a place to learn as northern French Alps).

So it's not clear what sort of skiing you're going to want to continue long-term -- and likely you can't know yourself what you'll want.

Anyway, exactly what gear to use is not one of the most important questions. Rather you need to be worrying about new ways to die in the outdoors, and new ways to tear ligaments which will hinder your enjoyment of other sports for the rest of your life, and getting back out to your car after dark because you were so slow skiing down because of your inadequate technique.

how to proceed:

* you really need to connect with local people who are out doing the kinds of skiing you think you want to do.

* get started on rental equipment - (If you're around a major ski resort in Europe and no shop is renting ski-mountaineering gear, that's a sign that you're in a region not very suitable for ski-mountaineering in the modern age of Euro mountain warming).

* need to get out there on skis and find out if you actually like skiing, and if so what kind -- before you waste lots of money on gear that doesn't work for you and/or your region.

Ken

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

DavisMeschke Guillotine wrote:

Being near France . . . I've become a much better skier by putting myself solely in the backcountry, learning how to ski variable snow conditions and steeper terrain than you'd ever find at a resort.

That does not fit my experience of France. I ski lots of days in France, hundreds of days at lift-served resorts and more than two hundred days of backcountry ski mountaineering. The resorts I ski with the assistance of lifts have lots of slopes just as steep as 99% of the northern French Alps backcountry. And lots of their off-the-groomed-trails slopes often have snow just as variable and difficult (or wonderful) as in the backcountry.

Maybe you want to try some different ski resorts in France?
Perhaps you could meet me there in a two weeks (while the lift-served resorts are still operating), and sample some of my favorite resorts and I'll point you to some interesting sectors in each -- See what French Alps resort skiing can be.
. . . (too bad the Dolomites resorts are not that good).

With the assistance of mechanical lifts at lots of northern French Alps ski stations, most people will get way better way faster with steeper slopes and variable / difficulty snow (compared with learning in pure backcountry).

Ken

Richard Ross · · Passo del Tonale, IT · Joined Feb 2018 · Points: 0

Ken, thanks for the detailed response.

I’m living in passo del tonale, where the adamello ski raid is held. There is definitely some culture here for sci alpinismo, but you are right on the changing snow conditions, last two years were terrible and this year we’ve had biblical amounts of snow.

You make another good point on lack of clarity. When I mention the waterfalls/ trails I mean to say that it would require a ski approach. My thinking was to kill two birds with one stone by learning or dabbling in ski mountaineering and getting better access on these approaches instead of snowshoe/posthole-ing. in simplest terms I’d like to go uphill with skis and downhill too. 

I’ll see what I can do about contacting the locals, I’ve got to boogie back to the US for the summer so I’m trying to get a feel for what I need to study up on and prepare for when I return in the fall. I do realize that there’s only so much you can do without actually going out and doing it though!

jg fox · · Long Beach, CA · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 5

kenr wrote:

Visiting some nice trails and waterfalls is likely not the same thing as what most serious skiers in Europe call "ski-mountaineering".

Anyway this is not a great time in human history to be starting into ski mountaineering -- with the warming that has been hitting the European mountains in recent years. There's just way less days of good skiing, and in some regions way less skiing of any quality at all. So it helps if you have a career that gives you lots of flexibilituy to get out on the few good days, and the will and means to drive a car substantial distances to where the good conditions are in a particular week or season.

The Dolomites are not very high-altitude, so ski-mountaineering there is impacted big by the warming. I do much of my ski-mountaineering in the northern French Alps, with lots more high-altitude options.
. . . (also the Dolomites lift-served ski resorts are mostly not so good for off-piste, so nowhere near as good a place to learn as northern French Alps).

So it's not clear what sort of skiing you're going to want to continue long-term -- and likely you can't know yourself what you'll want.

Anyway, exactly what gear to use is not one of the most important questions. Rather you need to be worrying about new ways to die in the outdoors, and new ways to tear ligaments which will hinder your enjoyment of other sports for the rest of your life, and getting back out to your car after dark because you were so slow skiing down because of your inadequate technique.

how to proceed:

* you really need to connect with local people who are out doing the kinds of skiing you think you want to do.

* get started on rental equipment - (If you're around a major ski resort in Europe and no shop is renting ski-mountaineering gear, that's a sign that you're in a region not very suitable for ski-mountaineering in the modern age of Euro mountain warming).

* need to get out there on skis and find out if you actually like skiing, and if so what kind -- before you waste lots of money on gear that doesn't work for you and/or your region.

Ken

That was depressing to read; right when I got a new back country ski setup...

Martin le Roux · · Superior, CO · Joined Jul 2003 · Points: 237

If you haven't already come across them, Sport Amplatz in Canazei is an excellent resource for ski-mountaineering gear, although at this time of year their selection is somewhat limited. See verticalworld.it. I've ordered from them when I couldn't find gear in the US.

Beean · · Canmore, AB · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 0

A few thoughts:

Learn to ski before dropping money on anything (including boots), try it out for a few days first.

Race plus boots are great for everything except mad cliff hucks and ripping groomers (LaSpo Sytron, Scarpa Alien RS, Fischer Travers Carbon, Roxa RX etc.) They climb pretty well too.

Race bindings are great too.

Boots should fit well and never be chosen based on features, weight or colour.

You should never consider a frame binding unless you're doing mostly resort skiing.

Feel free to size up a little at the waist from what all your friends are skiing, but under no circumstances exceed 100mm (you'll be ridiculed). Around 75-85mm seems popular, especially for an approach rig.

Avalanches are real so learn about them.

Resist the urge to 'euro ski' slopes, one at a time is a really good idea. 


kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Richard Ross wrote:

I’m living in passo del tonale, where the adamello . . .

A few years I did two or three days of real ski mountaineering there with a partner from Germany. We rode the lift up and based pleasurably in a modern hut, exited down to Ponte Legno, skied two or three nice peaks along the way. Just a few days after the big race, so lots of ski tracks around.

north face of the Presenella there (used to be a) famous alpine ice climbing zone?
. . . (I sort of doubt it comes into condition much any more. I'm not an ice climber).

. . . confusion . . .
Passo del Tonale and the Adamello group are distant from what most Americans think of as "the Dolomites" - (like two hours drive from Canazei). Tho not so far from the Dolomiti di Brenta (with some famous Trad climbing routes) - where I did an enjoyable day loop of trail running / speed-Via-Ferrata / low 5th class peak bagging.
. . . (I've also ridden my road bike over Passo Tonale once or twice).

Richard Ross wrote:
> . . . approaches . . . instead of snowshoe/posthole-ing. in simplest terms I’d like to go uphill with skis and downhill too.

For that need there's another gear option to consider: hybrid ski/snowshoes with the uphill traction permanently attached. So you get some glide on the downhills and flats, convenience going uphill, but not actually need to learn serious downhill skiing technique (and much less expensive). Several brands, I searched them for an ice-climber who wanted to do like you're thinking -- but quickly forgot the names because I'm a skier.

Ken

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,832

Beean wrote:

Race plus boots are great for everything except mad cliff hucks and ripping groomers.

Race bindings are great too . . . You should never consider a frame binding unless you're doing mostly resort skiing.

Feel free to size up a little at the waist from what all your friends are skiing, but under no circumstances exceed 100mm (you'll be ridiculed).

Yes that's the mainstream Conventional Wisdom.

For myself I violate it in every way, because I'm not a racer, so I want more safety and more fun.

My (heavier) downhill-resembling frame bindings have safer release capability than (almost any) Tech binding. Since I go out touring without support lots, a broken leg could be a death sentence. Even just tweaking a ligament from a failure to release could wreck my enjoyment of other sports for years, or cause later arthritis or other joint degradation for the rest of my life. So I gladly accept an occasional unnecessary release from my bindings as an acceptable side effect. And I do specific pre-season training for speed and endurance in skinning up with the extra weight attached to my feet -- for a binding with better capability to release when hit with combinations of different bad forces / torques which my joints and bones might encounter in crust or crud or terrain irregularites in bad visibility. (I once had to cut a France trip short several days from injury in backcountry where my previous Tech binding did not release properly).

My boots are non-light 4-buckle, which make it easier to transmit turning and edging forces/torques to the ski (great for making skiing crud into fun and making icy hardpack feel secure), and quicker surer transmission of my muscular responses to unexpected changes in snow quality in the midst of a tiurn.

Fatter-waist skis are just way more _fun_ in soft deep snow. My skis also have a titanium top sheet for stability / vibration-reduction on hardpack -- nice to feel when the consequences of a edge going loose might be a long slide into rocks below.

I've done lots of tours with +1800 meters / +6000 feet vertiical uphill on that non-light setup.

Yes lots of really good skiers _can_ get through lots of terrain situations on lighter gear like recommended above by Beean. But backcountry skiing is not a race ... so then why shouldn't us non-really-good skiers feel confident and have more fun in a wide variety of backcountry and off-piste snow conditions?

CW says "Light is Right", but stronger is funner.

Ken

Beean · · Canmore, AB · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 0

kenr wrote:

Yes that's the mainstream Conventional Wisdom.

For myself I violate it in every way, because I'm not a racer, so I want more safety and more fun.

My (heavier) downhill-resembling frame bindings have safer release capability than (almost any) Tech binding. Since I go out touring without support lots, a broken leg could be a death sentence. Even just tweaking a ligament from a failure to release could wreck my enjoyment of other sports for years, or cause later arthritis or other joint degradation for the rest of my life. So I gladly accept an occasional unnecessary release from my bindings as an acceptable side effect. And I do specific pre-season training for speed and endurance in skinning up with the extra weight attached to my feet -- for a binding with better capability to release when hit with combinations of different bad forces / torques which my joints and bones might encounter in crust or crud or terrain irregularites in bad visibility. (I once had to cut a France trip short several days from injury in backcountry where my previous Tech binding did not release properly).

My boots are non-light 4-buckle, which make it easier to transmit turning and edging forces/torques to the ski (great for making skiing crud into fun and making icy hardpack feel secure), and quicker surer transmission of my muscular responses to unexpected changes in snow quality in the midst of a tiurn.

Fatter-waist skis are just way more _fun_ in soft deep snow. My skis also have a titanium top sheet for stability / vibration-reduction on hardpack -- nice to feel when the consequences of a edge going loose might be a long slide into rocks below.

I've done lots of tours with +1800 meters / +6000 feet vertiical uphill on that non-light setup.

Yes lots of really good skiers _can_ get through lots of terrain situations on lighter gear like recommended above by Beean. But backcountry skiing is not a race ... so then why shouldn't us non-really-good skiers feel confident and have more fun in a wide variety of backcountry and off-piste snow conditions?

CW says "Light is Right", but stronger is funner.

Ken

Actually I think your argument is the mainstream conventional wisdom. Race tech bindings are largely viewed as inadequate for ski touring. Plug stiffness is required for driving the tips of the powder noodle in soft snow. A ski without a foot of rocker is just firewood. A fat ski is a necessity to surf 6in or more of the pow pow. Heavy is good, heavy is reliable etc, DPS is king. Powder Magazine, Blister Gear Review, Teton Gravity etc. all seem to back these arguments.

I'm suggesting OP gets a setup for modern ski mountaineering in Europe, should he enjoy skiing as a method of transport. Lighter gear means either moving faster (can do more in a day) or less effort for a slower pace (more enjoyable, to me at least). You're absolutely correct when it comes to the safety aspect of tech bindings, which is why I suggest OP learns to ski first. Race bindings value retention over release which is generally favoured for ski mountaineering, but does increase the risk of injury should a fall go awry. So don't fall :P  

I don't doubt that you're capable of getting out and doing big days, but consider how much more enjoyable 95% of your big day could be if it wasn't a slog. For myself and many other ski mountaineers out there the entire day is the experience, not just the descent. If that's the priority my thoughts are to spin lifts and hit the slackcountry.

Fat skis are fun in powder, but in my experience ski mountaineering generally involves a lot of ridgetop travel, couloir skiing and hard snow. I haven't skied the Dolomites but the trend of European ski widths seems to suggest that narrow waists are more suitable for this application. 

Anyway, the choice between old school and new school ultimately come down to preference and goals of the individual. So it's good you present an alternative view for the OP to consider.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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