Altai Hok Skis
A few years ago, a Canadian company, Karhu, made great Nordic skis, including a unique ski called a Sweeper, which was a wide and short metal-edged ski with a climbing skin glued to the bottom and a universal free-heel binding. When strapped to your feet, the Sweepers allowed you to explore winter wonderlands much as you would on a pair of snowshoes, but with the ability to glide across the snow. Being short, wide and skinned, they didn’t glide as well as a pair of skis, but they had better glide than a pair of snowshoes. And not having metal crampons attached to the bottom, they didn’t grip as well as snowshoes on steep climbs, but they certainly gripped better than a pair of skis. Unfortunately, the Karhu brand sold and was ultimately dissolved, and the Sweepers went the way of the Monoski.
There hasn’t been anything quite like the Sweepers since—until now. The Altai Hok, available in two lengths—125 or 140 cm.—and featuring full metal edges, is a similar type of gliding snowshoe that bridges the gap between cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. An integrated synthetic climbing skin gives the Hok great grip on the uphills, while at the same time helping to control speed on the downhills. The Hok also comes with binding inserts that match the current 75 mm., three-pin binding hole pattern. When paired up with a rugged 75 mm. backcountry boot, you’ll have the best mix of control, weight, and comfort and will have the confidence to go just about anywhere. If you prefer the convenience of simply strapping in using your existing snow boots, Altai has developed a universal binding called the Xtrace, which can be mounted using the same mounting inserts. This setup won’t give you the control of a 75 mm. binding/boot combo, but if leisurely touring around on flat or rolling terrain is all you are looking for, it is perfect. However you set them up, either option will allow you to experience what the folks at Altai are calling “skishoeing.” Hok skis $199; with Xtrace Universal Bindings, $269. www.atlaiskis.com.
Scarpa T4 Backcountry Ski Boot
To get the most out of backcountry skiing, you need a good boot. Comfort and warmth are critical, but equally critical is good lateral support, especially if your idea of backcountry skiing involves pointing your skis downhill and avoiding collisions with trees. Plastic shells provide the best lateral support, but unfortunately, the idea of a plastic backcountry boot intimidates a lot of folks who feel that they are heavy and clunky, especially when touring. But, this is not the case with all. A case in point is the Scarpa T4, which after having been discontinued a few years ago, is back. Its low-cut, two-buckle design keeps the overall weight to a minimum—6 pounds, 8 ounces per pair—while its soft ergonomic bellows offers a natural flex when kicking and gliding. When it comes to making downhill turns, the laterally stiff Pebax shell with an integrated torsion beam minimizes torsional twist, maximizing energy transfer so you can drive the ski through deep powder and around trees. Folks who meander out the back door on flat or rolling terrain may not need a plastic boot, but if steeps and deeps and trees are part of your definition of backcountry, strongly consider a plastic boot like the T4. And if skishoeing is your thing, the T4 is an excellent choice. $279. www.scarpa.com
Gecko Glueless Climbing Skins
When I first heard about Gecko glueless climbing skins, I immediately thought about the Voile Snake Skins. Anyone remember those? Instead of using glue to attach to the ski, the Snake Skins used straps, and instead of a plush material for grip, they used a sort of serrated rubber material. And as long you were always going straight up the fall line of a relatively low angle ascent, they worked, more or less. However, if you tried to traverse across the fall line, or if the pitch of your low angle ascent kicked up a few degrees, they didn’t work, at which point you were better off putting your skis on your shoulder and post-holing your way to the top. Needless to say, they are no longer available.
Voile didn’t exactly hit a home run with the Snake Skins, but they had the right idea. And it was an idea the folks at Gecko never stopped believing in, and thanks to a new technology, they have developed a better glueless climbing skin. Rather than using glue to adhere to the base of your ski, these skins use a proprietary suction technology that sticks to any smooth, flat surface, and they stick in all conditions: wet or dry, extreme cold or extreme pine needles. And because there is no glue, peeling the skins apart isn’t an arduous ordeal, cleaning them only takes warm water, and you don’t need to worry about your glue degrading over time. In addition, the lack of glue and the 100-percent mohair fiber plush makes them the lightest climbing skins available. $206.95–$229.95. www.geckoclimbingskins.com