Free Drop Off to the Bow Valley and Calgary
The equipment I started backcountry skiing with...
Last Saturday was my first day out of the season on the skintrack. It was awesome to glide on snow again, make a couple kickturns and enjoy some turns. As we were skinning up, I couldn't help but notice what other skiers were hauling uphill and it made me think of what equipment I started touring on before I got to that weight I consider being the "sweet spot" for me. Here it is.
2013 was the year of my first backcountry skiing experience. The Alps. The kingdom of lightweight gear and skimo racing. Having been a ski instructor for a few years, I was told to enjoy and rely on stiff race boots. In my 95mm-lasted, 130 flex plug boots, I could ski on my shins as much as I wanted and push hard. They didn't work out so well for moguls, but nothing felt better than carving turns and trying to push my shins forward through the ultra-stiff cuffs.
Salomon Sentinel 184 cm: 2100 g per ski
Salomon Guardian Bindings: 1470 g per binding
Atomic RT Ti 130 boots: 2500 g per boot
Total weight: 12 kg
1500 meters of elevation gain felt like quite the feat. Back then, I didn't know how much of a difference weight would make. All I thought was "I want the best possible downhill performance." Coming from an endurance sport background, I found myself desperately trying to hang on behind my partners. The descents were enjoyable but the uphills were frustrating!
Fast forward to 2017-2018
Movement Session 185cm : 1350 g per ski
Plum Race 150 Bindings: 150 g per binding
Atomic Backland Carbon Light : 1160 g per boot (including an Intuition liner)
Total weight: 5.3 kg
My current backcountry setup weighs 40% of what I was on in 2013. I am not a freerider, but I will ski anything and everything thrown at me, including steep slopes and short drops if I have to, though I don't seek out huge pillow lines and cliff bands. The 60% weight saving translates to 90% of the descent performance. The biggest difference lies in the boots. A kilo boot can be surprisingly powerful (I ski Intuition liners to beef up the flex a little bit), but has to be skied a bit more with finesse, with the feet as opposed to the shins like most people do in alpine boots. I remember that exercise that we used to do at the Mont Sainte-Anne ski school: Ski with your cuffs completely open. Back then, I thought that was both ridiculous and impossible. Now with a lightweight touring boot, it is important to ski more with my feet as the forward stiffness is very different than a heavy alpine boot. Overall performance, considering bootpacking, skinning, walking, and downnhill performance is amazing.
Considering we spend 90% or more of our days getting high, why hedge all our enjoyment in the 10% of down? Light boots, skis and bindings don't sacrifice as much as you'd think but what they do sacrifice they make up for in satisfaction on both ends of the skintrack.
As Skimo.co says, light is right, for most!