Monday, December 28, 2009

Light is right.…or is it?

Jared recently posted about the weights and dimensions of his various ski setups. Jared likes to go fast and cover a lot of ground in the backcountry. And I understand this. The faster you go up, the more you get to go down in a given amount of time. The lighter your setup, the faster you can go up. Makes sense, right?

An analogy Jared uses is mountain biking. Most of us around here choose to ride lightweight cross country bikes. They go fast uphill and perform reasonably well on the down. This bike setup makes a lot of sense in Utah, since, with the exception of Moab and St. George, most of our trails are hardly rougher than a dirt sidewalk.

If you go to British Columbia, however, most riders are on long travel freeride bikes. They require major effort to get uphill and don’t go very fast in the process unless you’ve got a shuttle. But oh what fun they are on the down.

Just as heavier, longer travel bikes are better suited for the trails in British Columbia, so too are fatter, longer skis better-suited for skiing in the Wasatch. The lightweight setups may get you uphill faster, but if you rode your hardtail with 1350 gram race wheels down a North Shore trail in BC, your bike would be a folded-up heap when you got to the bottom. If you made it that far. Likewise, here in the Wasatch where we get 500+ inches of snow annually, you may as well enjoy the down to the utmost. For me that means a ski built for deep snow.

It’s also a matter of priorities. I don’t race on skis. I’m out there to enjoy the snow and have fun, usually skinning at a pace where I can have a conversation. I keep up with the guys I go out with just fine, so going faster doesn’t accomplish much unless I were really keen to break trail all the time or wait around at the top. I don’t want to do either.

If I were a quiver kind of guy, I might have multiple skis to suit various conditions—a deep-snow ski for powder days and a lighter ski for long tours. But I have and have had multiple skis in the past and have found that I pretty much just ski whichever is my favorite all the time.

I started last season on some 163cm atomics. These had been fine in Idaho where twelve inches was as deep as it ever got and negotiating tight trees was a priority. But even at 99mm underfoot, I hated them in the deep snow of the Wasatch because they were too short.

I switched to 181cm K2s early last season and have never looked back. In my mind, the K2s are perfect for touring in the Wasatch. They’re wide (102 underfoot) and long enough to float in deep snow, the rockered tips never dive, and the flat tails are handy when touring. Like Jared, I’d never use anything but a Dynafit binding for touring, but my idea of the ideal ski to mount them to is quite different than his.

As for boots, that decision is driven by ski choice more than anything else. You need to have a boot that can drive the skis you choose. My boots are a Scarpa Spirit 3, which is probably as light as I could go for the skis I’m on. A F1 or F3 would save weight, but I don’t think I could turn with any confidence. As it is, Andrew McLean singled out more or less my exact setup as a “horrendous combination” because, by his estimation, the bindings and boots were too light for the skis. I disagree because, as Andrew later said “If it skis good, it is good.”

My setup skis good, or rather well, for what I like to do. A lighter setup would be of no benefit at least 90% of the time. Of course, if DPS offered me a set of carbon fiber Lotus 120s to try out, I wouldn’t say no and may never give them back.