Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Fast Part II: Lighten up?

Last ski season, I wanted to do a series of posts on traveling light and fast in the backcountry.  Here's one on waxing skins.  This post is on weight: the lighter your setup, the faster, higher, and longer you can go.  The tough question is, how fat? how thin? four buckles? no buckles? tail fix on skins or no? It's a tough question because there is a point of diminishing returns on both ends of the spectrum.  Too skinny and you won't be able to break trail or ski down fast.  Too fat and you won't be able go up as fast or cover as much ground.  Four buckles and it's going to add weight.  No buckles and there might not be enough support.  It's a trade-off that I've spent a lot of time obsessing about.

The other night, I pulled out my bathroom scale and weighed some gear.  Using a Sharpie, I wrote the weight on each piece.  The Insanes (the big fat ones) aren't mine, but I labeled them anyway . . . .

From December 23, 2009

Ski Weights:

164 Trab Duo Race w/ Low Techs: 2.1 lbs per ski, 64 mm at waist, race and fast touring.
160 Dynafit SR 11 w/Low Techs: 2.3 lbs per ski, 62 mm at waist, race and fast touring.
172 Dynafit ST 7 w/TLT Speeds: 3.6 lbs per ski, 74 mm at waist, fast touring, spring.
169 Dynafit Manaslu w/TLT Vertical: 3.8 lbs per ski, 95 mm at waist, touring, powder.
173 BD Havoc w/Dynafit Comforts: 4.7 lbs per ski, 88 mm at waist, rock skis.
183 Voile Insane w/TLT Speeds: 4.8 lbs per ski, 120 mm at waist, ????.

From December 23, 2009

Boot Weights:

Dynafit Zzero, four buckle, 3.6 lbs
Scarpa F1, 2 buckle, 2.8 lbs (I have modified F1s that I got down to 2 lbs)
Pierre Gignoux 444, 2 buckle, 1.4 lbs

From December 23, 2009

Skin Weights:

Pomoca Race for 160 cm skis: .2 lbs
Dynafit Speedskins for 160 cm skis: .3 lbs
BD Mohair Mix cut for Dynafit ST 7s: .6 lbs
BD Glidelite cut fo Havocs: .7 lbs
BD Ascension cut for Manaslu: .7 lbs

There are a lot of combinations with these skis, boots, and skins.  At the lightest end of the spectrum, the Trabs with PG 444s and Pomoca skins weigh 3.7 pounds per foot.  Contrast that with the Manaslus, Zzeros, and BD skins at 8.1 pounds per foot. That's a difference of 4.4 pounds per foot or 219 percent heavier -- huge, especially during a long tour.  If you think about it in pounds lifted per vertical foot, over a 10k vertical tour, that's a difference of 44,000 lbs!  I plan on using F1s with the Manaslus and will get some Dynafit Speedskins, which will bring the weight down to about 7 lbs per foot. 

One might suggest that the comparison above is misleading because my race setup is stupid light.  To a certain extent, I might agree, but the fact is, I tour a lot in that setup and have skied every condition imaginable in that setup.  Can I straightline Cardiac Bowl in that setup?  No.  Can I competently ski down Cardiac Bowl or a steep chute in that setup and have fun? Absolutely.  In fact, there are several ski mountaineers like Benedikt Bohm who have set speed records up and down 8000 meter peaks on similar setups.  That said, there are times when a race setup does not make sense, like on a big powder day.  Breaking trail on 65 mm waisted skis doesn't work that well.  And going down in 2 ft of fluff in that kind of setup is way too '80s and a bit irreverent.

Enter the Manaslus, or my "fat" setup.  Manaslus, F1s/Zzeros, and BD Ascensions are quite light.  There are very few, if any, 95 mm waisted skis out there that are as light as the Manaslu.  The Voile Insanes might come close.  I think Goode and DPS make some light carbon skis that have some girth.  Obviously, any setup that doesn't incorporate Dynafit bindings is more than a pound per foot heavier and, quite frankly, a waste of energy.  My guess is that most conventional backcountry setups are in the 9 to 12 lb range.  The Havocs, which are skinnier and which I used for years, are a full pound heavier. 

My friend Joey and I were laughing the other day about our touring setups in 2002.  I was on Scarpa T1s, Voile Mtn. Surfs/Rossis/Tuas, and Hammerhead bindings.  I think the Mtn Surfs and Hammerheads alone were over 8 pounds.  The T1s were probably another 5.  And that setup didn't even have a free pivot.  Uggh.

Assuming the goal is going faster, higher, and longer (and not making turns with "soul"), I think the question that should dictate backcountry ski choice is: what can I get away with?  This is a loaded question because the answer depends on lots of things like conditions, partners, terrain, route, distance, time, skill, and binding choice.  But generally speaking, in my not-so-humble opinion, most of us American backcountry travelers can get away with a lot less than we have or think.  In my mind, the less you can get away with, the better -- you'll go faster, higher, and longer.


Anonymous said...

The narrowest adult ski I have ever been on was 90 at the waist, so I'm not sure I could turn on your skinny set-ups. I got my first touring set up this year and according to your criteria you will likely laugh. 176 Bluehouse Districts with BD Ascension skins, Garmont megarides, but at least I have dynafits!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dug said...

the only thing i have to contribute to this discussion is to tell you that i have nothing to contribute to this discussion. i know what boots, skins, and skis i have. i have no idea how much any of them weighs. except that any one piece, except maybe the bindings, probably weighs more than your entire setup.

including your body.

ag said...

if anyone asks me what the 4.8 written on the tip of my ski stands for i am going to tell them its my ski level, on the 1 to 3 rental scale

tcruicks said...


Thanks for this post. I like this topic. I'm kind of like you always thinking about weight. It is very interesting to look at the difference in mentality and equipment between the folks in the EU and here in the US. My sense is that ski randonee has a much longer history and tradition in the Alps that includes covering distance and meters. Here in the US, touring has largely grown out of resorters getting fed up with resorts or simply grown out of the side-country crew. Now, the marketing and equipment development is all about the side-country crew and this the beefier equipment.

Its hard to say how much snow quality between the two locations has effected equipment preference? Do the Alps really have crappier snow that lends itself to skinnier skis? Not sure ..

In any event, to continue with the long post, I wonder how the Mansalus will pair with the F1's. I'm on the 178 with Zzero's and sometimes I wonder if a bigger boot wouldnt drive the ski better in rough conditions. I wonder if the F1 will be enough.

A year or two ago I sold my F1's and Trab Freerando. I found the downhill performance horrid. I still wonder if it was the binding mount position which, according to Trab, was placed backwards to allow for better swing weight and touring performance. I think it threw me in the back seat. Perhaps it would have been much better had I moved the bindings forward?

That has been my only flirtation with the lightweight setup but the thought of going up with such light gear is really freeing. Its just that those I tour with dont have lighweight gear and I end up waiting around so it kind of defeats the purpose.

But maybe I should return and revisit .... ?

BTW, do you like your Zzero's? I'm not a big fan in part because they did away with cuff cant adjustment for some reason. Mistake.

Sorry for the long post. Its xmas AM and waiting for the kids to wake.

Jared said...

Tanner, I'm glad that guys like you and Alex choose to give me a fighting chance. But, if you want to do yourself a favor . . .

Dug, thanks for the contribution. But, I would expect much less from you. I don't see you riding trails oh a DH machine. You need a ski setup to match that, um, svelte plaid shorts SS setup.

TC, F1s and Manaslus work fine for me in all but the gnarliest conditions, and even then they aren't bad. The Zzeros are a great light 4 buckle boot and I have no need for the canting. One thing that bugs me though is the lack of ankle articulation -- cuts off my stride. But that is a characteristic of nearly every boot out there except the F1.

Oh, and even though our snow might be fluffier a bit longer, I don't think it's the snow that dictates ski width choice in the US and continue to maintain thaty backcountry travelers can get away with less.

tcruicks said...


The Mansalus are a nice ski though arent they?

I hadnt noticed that lack of fore-aft articulation in the Zzero cuff ... I havent swapped boots in a while so I guess I am not noticing it. I'll be curious to see what BD's new lighter weight AT boot looks like. My guess is it wont be any lighter than the Zzero though.

I should think about getting a light rig again ... so out of vogue here but feels so good!

Team Rico said...

you speakin samurai again...i dont understand a word

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I think it's a question of priorities. Winter for me is about having fun in the snow and enjoying time with friends, not racing. Most of the time when I'm skinning up, it's at a pace that I can be having a conversation. When I go down, I want to enjoy the down. I don't enjoy the down on short or skinny skis.

I'll never be able to hang with you and Bart on a tour, but it doesn't mean I'm having less fun in the backcountry. I can hang with all but the fastest guys going uphill, and that's good enough.

FWIW, my next ski will be a DPS Lotus 120. The up will be a little easier with no compromise on the down. If my priority were racing, I'd go with something lighter. But if my priority weren't racing on the MTB, I'd be on a 5-6" travel trail bike--essentially the MTB equivalent to my ski setup.

Conditions are also a factor. We ski lots of deep snow in the Wasatch, but our MTB trails are often almost as smooth as a sidewalk. A big, burly MTB makes little sense around here, but a fat ski optimized for deep snow is money.

Aaron said...

Jared, you may as well go all the way by trimming down some skins to fit your skate skis. I just weighed my skating setup and it's under 3 #s per foot (not including skins). You'll fly on the up and straight-line the down (no other choice, really). What surprises me most is that your lightest setup is a mere 3.7 #s per foot, with skins. Not much more than skate skis.

I haven't weighed my splitboard setup yet. I'm afraid of what I'll find.

dug said...

"Dug, thanks for the contribution. But, I would expect much less from you. I don't see you riding trails oh a DH machine. You need a ski setup to match that, um, svelte plaid shorts SS setup."

yeah, i don't know how much that weighs either. including the shorts.

Jared said...


What blows me away is the fact that such a light setup skis tough conditions about 1000 times better than a skate setup. A couple of years ago, at the XTERRA Winter Tri, Josiah Middough had a huge lead going into the ski leg. He was on skate gear (with skins) and kept biffing it, and lost his lead to a lightweight rando setup in the last 10 meters. Also, in races like the Elk Mountain Traverse, rando setups have been winning the last few years. (Tried to get into that race this year, but it filled up in less than 30 minutes. . . )

brian p. harder said...

God, Jared, I cringed seeing that pair of carbon boots. You are going to be a pain in the ass this weekend at the 'ghee, aren't you? Wish I could afford that kind of candy but I'm still on last year's F1 Races.

I was actually going to blog about this topic myself. The industry has really created a demand for these big-ass skis and, now, big boots. "It's all about the down" and all that crap. Not buying it. When I get the helicopter ride up, maybe I'll arc the TGR turns with the rest of the bro brahs but until then, I'm with you. Light is right, learn how to ski down and you will get more verts per day. That equals more fun to me. See you saturday.

Plinko said...

Great visual with all the weights shown.

Saw that you had the Pomoca Race skins with Dynafit tips.

Were you able to get the tips from Dynafit NA?

The only source for the Pomoca Race I've been able to find is in France and doesn't ship to USA. Any clues on how you got yours?