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  1. #1
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    Nordic Backcountry Skiing

    Looking for some information about nordic backcountry skiing. I want to get into cross country skiing during the winter months, but I don't want to stick to groomed trails. I want to explore uphill and put some turns in downhill. No crazy high angle alpine runs. Most information I have found revolves around "classic" xc skiing and "backcountry at" skiing. I am curious about nordic backcountry boots, bindings, and skis. I am also curious about technique per specific gear: telemark turns? parallel turns? etc.

    Can anyone advise? Anyone know of a forum for this information?

  2. #2
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    Great topic.

    I do this quite a bit. I have several different ski setups and used to have more but I've picked my fav and downsized. Here's the deal - it's all compromise. It's an interesting niche and where people hone in on becomes sort of personal.

    Anyway -> my NNN-BC (free heel tour all the time) is set-up on Madshuh Glittertind MGD skis in a traditional length and they are fantastic at what they do. The traditional length throws people off because they are long - there's been a mfgr push to more compact skis. Truth is -> the compacts I've run don't tour nearly as well and feel squirmy. These track well, float over noise and rise up over powder. You can turn them - tele if you got the skills otherwise they'll turn in a stem christy or just your traditional parallel and foot placement turns. don't under-estimate these skis and they build up speed fast. I've had two pairs of these - waxless and waxable. Both kicked ass.

    My more burly set-up is a meh ski but the dimensions are correct & does its job - it's a Rossignol BC110 running Spike Tour bindings (which is an uncommon odd bird - has 3 pin or can run free tour or you can run in trad DH tele). More people would have a regular 3 pin binding or similar if you are running tele-boots. I am using a plastic boot on these a Scarpa 4. I like this set-up a lot as it is incredibly versatile I can tour fast enough, climb beyond what you'd think - carve turns, trees. I can competently ski them at the resort so they are capable to a point. My complaint of the ski is it tends to be tip stiff so it'll dive instead of float over powder. Not many companies are still making skis like this - which is unfortunate for me as I love the niche. I have a set of skins for this set-up as well. Most of my joy here is simply strapping on the skis and hit a complete tour - rolling - climbing and down without changing my set-up or putting the skins on. If you are motivated and have some experience you really can do a lot.

    Anyway - there are few gradations in-between what I listed here. Some will have tips closer to just under 90mm - some closer to 100mm. Some just over 60. The gist will be how much you want to quickly kick and glide (tour) and how much you want control in the bush and turning... To a point anyway.

    Feel free to ask my any questions. I think more info on where you go - and your experience and wants would help guide. Most the nordic BC is going to be pick your binding style - ski to match your want and a boot that matches the terrain and ski.

    You can search out XCD. Some history: https://telemarktalk.com/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=1707

    I haven't upgraded this gear in a bit and I was just recently searching for some replacement skis (Rossi) and that's when I saw there were not many bigger ski (width) w/ scales any more. Prob a niche of a niche but it works for me... I think Fisher has a smaller scaled ski and then there's viole BC line that is prob more for the alpine touring set-up (sadly).
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  3. #3
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    Yes, great topic. Agree. Lots of good advice from Carl.

    The type of skiing you describe is probably what I'm doing. I still think you'd call it xc skiing, touring, or maybe xcd.

    So much of the type of skiing you'll do probably will be dictated by your local terrain.

    I tried real bc tele skiing with the plastic boots and heavy skis. Even thought about AT gear. But too me is seemed just like pushing a DH bike up a hill all day just to spend a few minutes speeding back to the bottom. Also the approach on many mountains took a long time and plugging away on heavy gear on a long approach. My tele skills were not great, though on lower angle stuff with xc ski I do pretty well. Like I said though, even if I got AT gear I'd still not be into it.

    We've got some incredible stuff to ski where I'm at. It's really just like the equivalent of trail or AM biking. Many of our hiking trails make for great ski trails.

    Anyway, finding the right gear to match what you are after is key. But surprisingly the gear, unlike mountain biking, is neither too expensive nor dates quickly. The are different ends to the xcd spectrum. I'm more on the skinny ski end. We've got long approaches to the vert and I want to have as much fun there as I do on the downs. After a lot of time trying different gear I settled on the following for almost all I ski...


    Boots. I like a good old fashioned 75mm 3 pin, with a Voile binding. Either the HD or the HD with a cable. The nicest boot I've found for what I do is a Crispi Antarctic. Its soft enough to let me really kick and glide fast over rolling terrain. Not the stiffest boot at all even though they call it a "tele" boot.

    Skis. Well I've got a quite a few pair. I still like waxables and I can get them cheap on sale and mount my own bindings. In general, I think a more classic length ski (paired with skills) is your best bet. Metal edges. Like Mega said something like the Glittertind is a classic do it all. I've got a pair. They are soft skis and don't require a strong kick, but they are long and don't turn too easily because of the length and minimal side cut. Great touring ski if you have long, wide open spaces.

    The Europa 99 is a great classic. By Fisher. Similar to the Glittertind but much stiffer camber so they are a lot faster but take a more disciplined kick. Like the Glit the come in wax and waxes. Waxless skis, while a lot slower IMO, are more forgiving on the kick. Its also a hard ski to turn. (Most model of xc skis come in a waxless and wax - though wax skis are getting rarer.)

    Turning "xcd" skis is a funny thing. Get a wide short ski with a lot of side cut and it turns easily. But then on the rolling stuff they don't track well nor do they glide fast. I use a combination of turn types. Tele, side step, and parallel (when there is not much puff and I've got to scrub speed on narrow chutes).

    Favorite, "one ski", to do it all, is the Amundsen by Asnes. Pricey but perfect for the tighter, steeper trails I ski. They are similar to the two I mentioned above but are a bit shorter and maybe a hair wider, but still with good pocket for gliding.

    When I am just doing the easier xc stuff and don't need the metal edges I go with the "old timer's" Fisher bc Crown. You can get them on sale dirt cheap and they are real light, fast skis on easier terrain under a skilled skier.

    Got some shorter wider skis too but just don't like how they kick and glide. Too much ski most of the time. Yeah, way easier to turn, and lots of fun on the downs though. I've got a burlier stiffer old leather boot too - I pair that up with the wider ski and take it to the lifts once or twice a year to brush up on just my DH skills, tele turns.


    Biggest thing I learned about xc skiing, is the wicked crazy stuff a highly skilled person can do even on long skinny skis with a softer boot. I've been blown away seeing some older women skiers with insane balance slicing their way down steep, slick chutes - grey haired pony tails trailing behind them. Puts me to shame. Work on the skills and you'll find how much you can do with lighter gear. It's very similar to a new biker trying to tackle more on a bike by getting a bigger bike with bigger tires and more travel - might be fun on the downs but every where else its a literal drag. With skis this concept I found was exponentially increased. The gear, within reason, is only a very tiny part of how far you can go. So much of it is skill. I love mtb but not as much as xc skiing. That skill aspect and challenge keeps it so engaging for me. I do think its becoming a lost art/skill. You've got xc skiing at groomed centers, and then you have real bc stuff with plastic boots. But the off the beaten path xc ski touring is become less popular. It's a lot of work and has a very steep learning curve. But once you get past the hump, its the best.


    Anyway, best of luck and let us know how it turns out.

    Nordic Backcountry Skiing-e88264f8-3408-4d5e-a72f-7a4dc0d76b0b.jpg


    Nordic Backcountry Skiing-8f04c53f-a119-4c04-a21a-ce95a7db3fa1.jpg

  4. #4
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    Nice write up! Good to see others get the groove on this way.

    Looked up those Amundsen and will check them out when I feel like retiring the Glittertinds. Where are you - for reference? I'm in CO so fresh, soft dry snow.

    I'm kicking myself not getting some close out Madshus Annums a ways back and now I can't figure out if they are still making them or if everything I see is just close out. These softer profile work for me... so hoping I can still find a deal.

    Cheers and nice pics.
    Last edited by Carl Mega; 12-18-2019 at 08:24 AM.
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  5. #5
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    I didnít expect to receive such solid advice. Much appreciated! I will be skiing in central Idaho - Sawtooth mountains to be exact. Thereís lots of vertical, but thereís also lots of low angle, and thatís what I am after. I suppose Iíll do some groomed skiing, but mostly itíll be exploring foothills and areas with some climb and some descent, both open and in lodge pole stands. I am 6í 4Ē. What length of ski would you suggest considering the need to turn through trees but also be productive on the flats?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ianjt View Post
    I am 6í 4Ē. What length of ski would you suggest considering the need to turn through trees but also be productive on the flats?
    It's the stiffness / camber of each individual ski you'll need to assess. Basically, your weight will need to compress the ski enough to generate grip to kick - conversely release enough to glide. At your height (and assuming proportional weight) odds are you at the upper end of any ski line.

    So - start with the ski mfgr's guidlines. Maybe do a little internet search if you find a ski - see what others say @ similar weight/gear. If possible, an experienced ski shop can help guide - they can actually put you on the ski and visually inspect flex. Finally, try before you buy is best but often not avail.

    If you are bushwhacking a lot - with vertical, you may choose to be at the upper end of the weight range - basically maximizing the grip at the expense of the glide. There's nothing more frustrating than watching (being?) someone ascend on skis they can't compress - always sliding back and losing grip in the stroke.

    Edit: An old off-camber thread for posterity: https://forums.mtbr.com/off-camber-o...ng-979032.html
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  7. #7
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    Thanks again. I have been doing more research. It seems that some people prefer 3 pin for downhill performance and some prefer NNN. Given industry trends, it seems NNN might be the smarter choice at this point. My only concern in getting a boot stiff enough for NNN bindings and control on descents.

    I appreciate the help with ski length! I am also trying to decide what a good middle ground would be for ski width. I don't want to sacrifice too much glide capability on groomed or hard pack snow. But most of my time will likely be in powder, so I'd like to lean toward that. Is 90mm a proper width? 100? I imagine 112 and 125 would be too wide for any control on hard pack...

  8. #8
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    Maybe think boots first...

    Are you thinking leather / soft synthetic or hard plastic?

    In the "algorithmic" approach which way you go at that juncture makes a very big difference.

    Nice fast, nimble kicking and gliding and exploring for hours on a rigid plastic boot is no fun at all (for me). I'd venture to say its almost not xc skiing. Until you are pointed down I find it not that much better than snow shoeing.

    On the other hand, if you really want to tele turn a ski, and you don't have very good skills, plastic boots may be the way to go.


    Depending on what you decide above, you'll be going down two very different paths. Each will give a very different experience. The first is like trail riding on a trail bike. The terrain including the ups, downs, and rolling stuff will all be fun, but it takes a lot of skill. On the latter you'll be more focused on the downs.


    If available, the best thing to do is to go to a local ski shop/dealer and rent and describe to them the kind of skiing you'd like to do.

    Size, length. Yeah, at over 6', unless you are really thin you'll almost always be on the max size ski of any brand. I'm just a hair under 6' and without gear 175# and almost always ski the longest ski of brand/model.


    Anyone who's stuck with the sport almost never can't use a ski like the Glittertind or Europa 99 paired up with a nice NNN BC, or a 75mm 3 pin boot. Its the "trail bike" of xc ski set ups. These are the types of skis guys use who traverse massive terrain in places like Alaska and Antarctica. It does sound like you might be looking at more of an "enduro bike" ski to focus on the downs and turns though. Talk to a local shop. We are all biased by our local terrain and taste and I know I'm a bit more of an old school outlier.

    Pro's can turn a Europa...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBveyHPeeyk


    Also, assuming you are new to all this? Worrying about turning skis... well, I know the ads focus a lot on that, but that's like the last big skill to worry about when getting into this. Getting your balance on a ski is huge and takes a lot of time. Kicking, gliding, parallel/herring bone climbing. Stream crossings, log crossings, working your polls... IMO all these things often come well before you can turn a ski very well.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by ianjt View Post
    . Is 90mm a proper width? 100? I imagine 112 and 125 would be too wide for any control on hard pack...
    So it's funny that both Mike and I consider ourselves outliers - while still firmly in this activity. It's totally understandable tho - that's why I referenced that that "compromise" and honing in on what you want to do making it personal.

    Quick deal on the width - I'm on the outer extreme of what you'd consider still Nordic BC/XCD w/ that 110 tip (78mm underfoot).. that used to be a wide resort ski - I think my BD Arc Angels were that wide and I have some old DH skinnies that are not nearly that wide. Anyway - when you get into skis that actually turn well - there's shape...Tip - underfoot - tail. Most the time people will reference the skis middle (under foot).. When I grab that ski - I know I can turn it, especially driving it with an (albiet very light) plastic boot. I also have a tele turn I've worked on for a very long time. A wider offering will make that much easier....

    You mentioned turns so that's why I brought out my ^bigger guns. I see more people skiing something similar to the Glinttertind - not super shaped and I think the tip is like 67/68mm. I think this is the genre defining arctype ski. As Mike mentioned - goes for miles, capable enough if you put in the time - but it is what it is. Most people in this tour category are very happy on a little descent and the thrill being on light gear provides - I'm no exception here (and I can turn them). However, if you legitimately want to have a fresh powder descent on more substantial grade - you should consider a burlier rig.

    Here's a 98: https://www.rei.com/product/140134/f...-98-crown-skis

    Here's a 112: https://www.rei.com/product/140133/f...112-crown-skis

    A bit on the boot/binding - NNN BC = totally free tour, until you have experience pressuring the ski for turns will be more difficult. 90% of people who are doing this type of rig will just be gliding out parallel turns with some leaning and step turning.

    The 3-pin/75mm binding will accept basically any corresponding tele boot. From floppy leathers to bigger plastics. It is not free tour, you are basically bending that tip of the boot to bring the ski forward/lift your heel. All things considered - it doesn't tour as effortlessly. This duckbill (front of boot) also drives the ski in a turn w/ the natural resistance of the rubber. Good technique goes a long, long way on a setup like this and some chubby Norwegian septuagenarian can embarrass hot shot youngins on more capable rigs.

    Back to worthless advice... if you are entirely new to this - get a ~70mm (tip) or a notch up ~80mm if you will be tracking in fresh snow and want luxury of more float.

    Example: https://www.rei.com/product/140135/f...s-country-skis

    Enjoy your time touring and learning and know this ski will always be in your quiver. You'll need to decide between NNN-BC and 3 pin but honestly can't go wrong at this point.

    If you are deadset on bushwacking and steeper grade, consider some of these bigger ski categories I mentioned. I would personally run them 3 pin with a light plastic boot or a sturdy leather/equivalent. Note: far less people in this category. This is what I do most these days and even in CO I don't see many people on the terrain I'm on with similar rigs.

    As Mike mentioned, focus on traversing terrain and the basics of how to navigate & control your skis. Any descending will be a thrill (that's the beauty!) Just sliding a few inches forward is a thrill IMHO). Turning might be a welcome but infrequent visitor if you are new to this. Getting a bomber turn (with no experience) and on Nordic gear only is a tall order but you will develop what you need by getting out there, having a basic understanding of what you should do and applying yourself.

    It's a great activity - sorry it's confusing to navigate all the gear options.
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  10. #10
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    Once again, solid advice. Iíll have to go chat with a local shop and see if they offer rentals. And a fair point considering my ďgreenĒ state when it comes to the sport. I imagine Iíll spend a fair bit of time learning fundamentals before worrying about downhill technique. Ultimately, what I am after is something to replace my snowshoes on a more technical and exciting level. Iíll still snowshoe, but Iíll be honest: it often lacks in thrill and takes very little effort to get into.

  11. #11
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    Ok...so I'm keying in on the 'snow shoes' comment. Here's an different approach that might be of interest.

    https://www.rei.com/product/138654/b...-with-bindings

    It's a very short, wide ski with an integrated skin. I have a set of a different brand/model. They are great at klomping around in fresh show - scales terrain impressively well. Find some steeps and you can ski down in a fun way too. I'm meh on the universal binding as I've not really finding it to be good with boots I own but they basically make it so you can use any boot - non-ski boot that is. I'm 1/2 considering 3 pin. Anyway - terrible in tracks or hard packed frozen trails. That's the disclaimer - with these you'd be doing like snow shoes in untracked snow. They are miles more fun than a snowshoe tho.

    Disclaimer: obviously not nordic.

    I think I linked the shortest ones but there are a size longer - obviously that's more for you. There's other cheaper brands too with addl. options.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Mega View Post
    Ok...so I'm keying in on the 'snow shoes' comment. Here's an different approach that might be of interest.

    https://www.rei.com/product/138654/b...-with-bindings


    It's a very short, wide ski with an integrated skin. I have a set of a different brand/model. They are great at klomping around in fresh show - scales terrain impressively well. Find some steeps and you can ski down in a fun way too. I'm meh on the universal binding as I've not really finding it to be good with boots I own but they basically make it so you can use any boot - non-ski boot that is. I'm 1/2 considering 3 pin. Anyway - terrible in tracks or hard packed frozen trails. That's the disclaimer - with these you'd be doing like snow shoes in untracked snow. They are miles more fun than a snowshoe tho.

    Disclaimer: obviously not nordic.

    I think I linked the shortest ones but there are a size longer - obviously that's more for you. There's other cheaper brands too with addl. options.
    Iíve seen these...I think Iím looking more toward traditional skis at this point. I guess Iíd like to learn to Nordic ski rather than plod around. Part of the appeal of traditional skis is the craft associated with them - the art/technique/science of Nordic skiing. Perhaps my snowshoe comparison was too broad...But these do look interesting!

  13. #13
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    No worries. That's why I didn't go into detail on them - a ton of caveats. There's a ultra-narrow sweet spot for them so they are not a one ski to do everything or even most things.

    Report back when you process on some of the ski info and make some progress on selecting you gear. Cheers.
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    I'd like to update this thread as a thanks for those who participated, and perhaps as a reference for people looking to get into this sport.

    I bought Fischer Excursion 88 skis in 189 length. I bought NNN BC Magnum bindings and Fischer BC 6 boots. I have taken this setup out on low-angle descents and a particularly powdery tour in the Sawtooth mountains in Idaho.

    Firstly, I was floored by how well I float with the skis. I float on the powder better than any snowshoe I have ever used. When I stopped for a break and popped the skis off, I literally sank to my knees in one step. The kick and glide works in deep snow, but it's not at race speed. I am fine with that; I just want to explore. The kick and glide on consolidated snow pack and groomed stuff is pretty strong. The skis are double camber, which helps.

    I am absolute garbage at turning these skis. I fall on nearly every attempt. I was hoping it would be an easier transition coming from an alpine background, but I see this is not the case. There is some speculation, from other forums, that this might be due to NNN BC bindings. Apparently they don't offer the same downhill control that 3 pin does. This is a matter contested by some, who say that technique refinement is all that is required from NNN BC.

    I am completely "meh" on my boots, the Fischer BCX 6. They seem supportive, they are very warm, and they are stiff. However, one of the synch chords for the snow skirt broke on the second trip, the zipper feels cheap, and they are a royal pain in the ass to lace. My problem is I have big feet. Alpina doesn't make the Alaska in my size, otherwise I'd have the them.

    I am hoping I didn't make a mistake an buy a setup that is only suited for flat powder terrain. I'd really like some turning functionality, although that won't be the focus of my trips. Perhaps one day I will get 3 pin with wide skis and plastic boots to search for the downhill. For now, I just hope I can learn to throw some turns in on my outings.

    Overall, they've been a lot of fun. Still lots to learn. And now I am hindered by the weird warm weather pattern we have developing in Western Idaho...

  15. #15
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    I'd say good progress! right in the middle on the ski size. NNN-BC is good to have in the quiver no matter what. And as you learned, driving a ski is much easier with a bigger boot and binding set-up -or- use the just use your set-up to the best of your ability now and progress your skills & then decide to add to your quiver. Rock on w/ your adventuring!
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    Doing a pre-season bump for the 3 of us who are into this thread .

    This year's new rig is Madshus Annum 195 with Voile Switchbacks and, usually, my Scarpa T4s (or maybe occasionally Garmont Synergy). Hoping this set-up has a bit better soft snow manners than the Rossi110s.

    If snow cooperates, this is a good year for avoiding the resorts. Hope you guys (Ian & Mike) have a good season.
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  17. #17
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    Nice! I am looking into 3 pins myself. I will keep the NNN-BC setup, but I'd like to try something a little more burly. New year, new toys

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