Should I stay or should I go (ski trip edition)?
August 26, 2012 10:20 PM   Subscribe

How much harder is it to ski (x-country) carrying a heavy pack? How much harder is a four day trip than a two-day one? How hard is it to switch from one type of ski to another? Can I do this?

I ski cross-country once or twice each season. My first trip for this season was last weekend where I did a one-day 10km trip (with an extra 2.5km warm-up beforehand). About half of it was non-stop uphill. I sweated and swore, and decided I would never go skiing again.

This weekend I did a two-day trip, with a few hours of easy practice skiing on the Saturday, snow camping, then a full day (9-4:30 with three 20-minute-ish breaks) on the Sunday. There was a lot of uphill, but it was interspersed with sections of flat and downhill. Some downhill runs were super scary to me. There were some short uphill bits that I didn't think I was going to manage, and where I had to break to catch my breath every fifty steps. I injured my knee slightly near the end, which I'm sure was entirely fatigue-related stupidity. I think it will heal up pretty quickly, though. I sat in the snow and cried three times, promising myself I would never go skiing again.

In two weeks time some friends want me to join them on a four-day cross-country trip (Jagungal, if any Australians know it). They say it's a trip that can be done in two days, but they are going to take it slow and maybe include a couple of detours on the way. The people on my trip yesterday said that the Jagungal trip is very similar in difficulty level to yesterday's skiing. BUT I'll be carrying a pack for at least some of it with four days' worth of food, dry clothes, emergency gear, sleeping bag, etc, and maybe a tent, although we might use the huts instead. (If we use the huts, we'll leave the packs at one for at least one full day). By the fourth day I will be fatigued from three nights of not very good sleep (because cold! hard surfaces! etc). And I've never skied with more than a small day pack before.

Also the friends are insisting that we use lighter Nordic skis instead of Telemark, and I've only ever used Telemark skis before. I'm scared that the Nordic skis will be less stable and more difficult to control on the downhill portions, which will effectively lower my skiing ability, and that they will not be as good on steep uphills as Telemarks with skins. (My friends tell me that's nonsense, and that I'll be very glad of the more comfortable boots and less weight).

All in all, I'm thinking this trip might be too hard for me. But I thought the same about this weekend's trip and I'm really glad I went anyway.

Skiers of Metafilter: if I can do a two day trip of similar difficulty, can I do a four day trip with different skis, and carrying a pack? If I have two weeks to prepare, what can I do, assuming that ski trips in the meanwhile are not an option?
posted by lollusc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(Oh, and also we had perfect weather for both trips so far this season, and I am pretty sure we are not likely to get four days in a row of good weather for the next trip. So weather might make it a bit harder too.)
posted by lollusc at 10:23 PM on August 26, 2012

I suggest you go back and read your question. This sounds not just difficult but risky safety-wise. The problem with a big pack is the weight shift - the first time I had a (moderate) backpack on skis I turtled - all day. By the end of the day I could not get up. So practice carrying a big pack and skiing before you go. Also depends on conditions - is it groomed? Powder? Wet? Powder or very wet snow will make it 10x more difficult
posted by zia at 10:38 PM on August 26, 2012

What's the mileage? I'd figure 2-2.5ish miles per hour, including breaks and lunch, for an inexperienced skier with a pack. If that's a reasonable mileage (like you're planning on doing no more than 15 miles per day, ideally 8-10) I think you'll be totally fine. Pack light and OK it with everyone else that you probably need a lighter pack than them. It does take a bit of practice balancing with a pack but it's not super hard. If one day is a day trip you can always sit it out to rest after all.

And yeah skinny nordic skis are the way to go. It'll be about 100x less effort to ski trails in NNN or NNN BC gear than it is on tele skis. It's like running running shoes instead of work boots. I actually cringed when you said you'd been doing all your skiing so far in tele gear, that's how dramatic of a difference it is. If you've been slogging around in stiff boots, taking skins on and off you're going to be giddy with joy once you get a pair of lightweight scaled skis on you.

Having said that if you're using BC gear, there is a limited selection of boots made so make sure they fit! And bring moleskin! Go out as soon as you can on nordic gear and see how it works for you. I imagine you'll be zipping around in no time. One thing to consider is length, longer skinny skis actually snowplow better so in a way they're less tiring on downhills but too long and they're uncontrollable for a novice. A slightly shaped mid length touring ski is ideal for trail based hut to hut skiing. Metal edges are nice if it's icy but they're heavy and often useless. I don't know what brands you have available to rent/ borrow but look for that general kind of ski.

Pro tip: take the skis off and walk down the steep hills or any icy bits if you have a pack. Have no shame about this, no one else does. Hell, sometimes we walk up the hills. And the side hills....
posted by fshgrl at 10:39 PM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

One more thing: if you're not actually tele skiing, as in making and linking controlled telemark turns, there is zero benefit. The reason tele skis are "better" for downhill skiing is because you can turn them to control your descent. If you're not turning and just snow plowing then the stiff boots and shorter heavier skis are not really doing anything for you.
posted by fshgrl at 10:46 PM on August 26, 2012

And one more, one more thing. Take a lesson. If you've been using skins you need to learn to duck walk/ side step up hills and you sound like you could use some general guidance on the downhill too. If you can try nordic gear and take a short lesson I think you'll be in a much better place making this decision.
posted by fshgrl at 10:48 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

From your post, it sounds like you enjoy being pushed to your limits, and possibly beyond. So, my only question would be how much you trust your friends to know what they're doing, and to look out for you. I assume that some of the friends proposing this trip have skied with you before? If you trust them, and they know your abilities, then you should definitely go for it.

(FWIW - my first, and only, experience with backcountry skiing was a 2-week trek with packs AND sleds, snow camping every night. It was also my first time on cross country skis.)
posted by Metasyntactic at 10:59 PM on August 26, 2012

To answer a couple of questions (and maybe correct misunderstandings): I do use tele-turns (well, I've been learning - I can kind of link them now). But my assumption about telemarks being more stable is mainly that a friend I ski with who uses Nordic skis is much more experienced than me, and faster on the flat and uphill, but frequently falls on downhills that I have no trouble with. Maybe he's unusual :)

The mileage is well under fshgrl's estimates, although I don't know what it is exactly.

I have skied with these friends before and I trust them to look out for me, but the guy planning the trip often overestimates how easy I will find uphill climbs. Again, though, he claims that's because my telemarks are so heavy.

I really won't have a chance to try any skiing between now and then, so can't practice skiing with a pack or with the nordic skis, and can't take lessons. I'll be working during the week and travelling (away from the snow) next weekend). And it's a three hour drive each way to the snow from here, so it's not like I can go out one evening after work :)

The snow will not be groomed, and we won't know exactly what it's like until we get there. This time of year there should be fresh snowfall and good cover, but whether it's icy or powder or what will be a matter or luck.

Zia's response is what the voice in my head was saying. But the rest of you sound more reassuring...
posted by lollusc at 11:26 PM on August 26, 2012

Second Metasyntactic. If you know your partners well, and you trust their safety skills and common sense, and they are familiar with your ability level and still encourage you to go, then go for it.

I hope it's safe to assume that a shift from tele skis to cross-country still means you'll be on backcountry skis with edges and boots with plenty of ankle support. You need enough oomph to support the pack on your back. Have you considered pulling a pulk instead? You might find that more stable. And the more options you have to turn this into a hut trip, the better. The respite will be welcome if you feel a bit beyond your ability. Enjoy the challenge--and take or borrow as much ultra-light gear as possible!
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:37 PM on August 26, 2012

In what way did you injure your knee? Because if it is an internal injury (rather than abrasion or something) I'd be worried about making it worse by forcing yourself on a much harder trip so soon.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:37 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tele turns are going to be way harder as a novice with a pack, probably you won't be able to basically. Regular old snowplowing on Nordic gear or skidding a few turns here and there won't be much harder (just a bit more tiring).
posted by fshgrl at 11:41 PM on August 26, 2012

I'm not exactly sure what ski and boot options are available for me, but my usual hire place has experienced cross-country skiers with good advice, so I'll trust what they set me up with. My friend wants to loan me his spare skis, but he's about 10cm taller than me, so I think they might be too long.

I don't know exactly what's going on with the knee. I twisted it funny when I stood up very ungracefully from a fall and something went ping. (I would have gotten up more carefully if I hadn't been so exhausted.) Then it was mildly painful now and then when walking on it afterwards. But I iced it and rested it last night and today, and it feels a lot better already, just a twinge a couple of times today. I'm pretty sure it will be back to normal within a few days, let alone two weeks. If it's not, then I definitely won't go. I just mentioned it because it shows that yesterday's trip did put me dangerously close to the limits of what I can do without risking injury.

The "huts" are really just wood-and-tin sheds here (no running water, no electricity, no actual beds with mattresses or anything.) Basically emergency shelters. They are colder to sleep in than tents. The only advantage is not having to carry tents. So I'm not sure about them providing much of a "respite"!
posted by lollusc at 11:53 PM on August 26, 2012

so I'll trust what they set me up with. My friend wants to loan me his spare skis, but he's about 10cm taller than me, so I think they might be too long.

Weight is more important than height. You have to get Nordic skis fitted to your weight so that there will be enough spring in the ski for you to get a glide with your weight distributed across both skis and a dig when your weight is on one ski or the other - taking also into account the load you might have on your back.

Rely on the local shop to set you up. Pay them to put the base layers of wax on because this is a trick for a novice.

Telemarks are superior in the steeps, otherwise IMHO they offer no advantage over a good set of nordic skis over most terrain and on flat terrain the Nordic ski is vastly superior. They look a bit flimsy, but do not underrate them.
posted by three blind mice at 1:55 AM on August 27, 2012

The people on my trip yesterday said that the Jagungal trip is very similar in difficulty level to yesterday's skiing.

And on that trip, you cried three times. Now you want to add a pack? And new skis? This seems like a four day recipe for misery to me. You really, really want to test all these new variable on a day trip.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 AM on August 27, 2012

Would your friends be able to take your pack? If you can go with a small day pack and have them carry other things, well, it's at least in the realm of reasonable. But you cried three times in two days, and you want to figure out how to prepare yourself for four days, which is more than twice as difficult.
posted by jeather at 5:10 AM on August 27, 2012

I've been on a few ski "trips" with the Norwegian Army, and carrying a heavy backpack while skiing is no fun. The usual solution in arctic warfare circles is to use a "pulk", a small cargo sled. I have no idea if you'll be able to find one in Australia, though.
posted by Harald74 at 5:30 AM on August 27, 2012

Seconding the pulk idea. Pretty cheap and easy to DIY one with a kid's plastic sled and some hardware store parts. Google search on making your own pulk. Plenty of stuff out there.
posted by thatguyjeff at 6:59 AM on August 27, 2012

Hm, okay, so fshgrl convinced me that I could do it. The rest of you have convinced me that I probably won't have any fun doing it. I guess I was thinking that after the one day trip, I didn't think I could do the harder two day trip, and then I could, and so by induction, I could do the four day trip too. But carrying the pack is, I think, going to tip the scales too far towards unpleasant (as is dragging a pulk, which looks even more unwieldy to me, especially for steep slopes - and very little of this terrain will be flat).

For some reason I had been thinking about this as my only remaining skiing option for this season, but I might see if I can do a day trip or two-day trip during that same period with other people, in an easier area, and try out the nordic skis then. Then next year I can maybe tackle this route.
posted by lollusc at 7:12 AM on August 27, 2012

Just came to this and I think your new plan is a good one. Definitely try out Nordic skis. I do cross-country skiing and did a day-long trek with a pack some years back. Had skins, too, which were helpful when we got to some steeps. It was quite a challenge. And I had a hut with stove to retire to. I think you CAN do it but it sounds a bit miserable.

But, yeah, get off those tele skiis and expand your horizons there. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised!
posted by amanda at 7:49 AM on August 27, 2012

Hmm... To begin with: I believe you can do it, I believe that you will have moments where you will hate it, but I think you'll find that after you're done, the pain and suffering will fade, and only the great memories will remain, including the feeling of accomplishment, and you'll be thinking about the next season's big tour.

My perspective is of a very experienced backcountry and nordic skier. 32 years on x-c skis, 23 years backcountry skiing, including some pretty big tours. Here are my thoughts:

1) Don't pull a sled. Just don't. This is only worth it if there are long stretches of flat ground and the individual loads are over 70 pounds. Sleds are tricky to control on side hills and steep downs. Very few people doing the big mountain tours in the Canadian West (Rockies, Coast Mountains, Columbias) bother with sleds. Some of the Coast Mountain tours are ok, but only because of long flat icefields and having to haul three weeks of food.

2) There is a continuum between track x-c skis (think widths of less than 50mm, double camber, no metal edges, no sidecut, soft boots) and burly, down-optimized tele gear (skis >100mm at waist, massive sidecut, no camber or negative camber, four buckle plastic boots). Where you place yourself on the continuum is all about trade-offs. Most people in this thread are pushing the lighter part of the continuum. I sort of disagree, because it sounds like you seem most concerned with dealing with a big pack on significant descents.

Burlier gear will always be far easier and more stable on the down -- even if you're doing survival turns, snow-plows, etc -- and that difference will be magnified with a big pack. On flattish ground, the more nordic gear will make for less effort, but mostly that will be due to wax or scales, not weight (at least, with a big pack). On the up, if its consistent steep climbing such that you'd be herring-boning with the nordic gear, having skins will be a blessing and once you're in skinning-is-more-efficient ground, then it's a wash. In general, if the tour is going to involve >500m vertical gain per day, the lighter nordic gear gives you little advantage and heavier, more stable gear that you are already comfortable and familiar with will be a blessing. On the other hand, if you have to keep skins on to travel flattish ground, you'll be cursing as your companions leave you in the dust. The diffence though is not the weight of skis and boots, the difference is wax/scales vs. skins.

On the other hand, I also believe that there's no perfect answer to the question, and that there's virtue in everyone having similar kind of gear so that the difficulties and efficiencies are consistent across the group.

(My go-to setup for distance > climbing/descending tours is a lightweight 65mm waist tele ski that I wax or skin. I have gone out on day trips with folks with lighter, more 'nordic' gear, and don't have any trouble keeping up on the flats or climbs. On big mountain tours (big packs, 1000m vert. a day sort of thing), its a slightly heavier tele setup, which I'm going to ditch this year for AT/dynafit. With a more tele setup, having a low-resistance or ideally free-pivot mode binding is key)

3) Skiing with a big pack sucks -- especially the descents. If you're not an incredibly talented and skilled tele skier, you will not be linking graceful turns with 50 lbs. on your back. What you will be doing are power snow plows, step turns, long traverses, stem christies. Survival skiing, in short. I am a very strong tele skier, and with a big pack, that's what I'm doing. Usually I ski with folks who have AT/dynafit setups, with lock-down heels. Much, much easier on the down but even so, with burly packs, the down ain't pretty.

4) Anything you can do to keep the weight down on the pack is something you should pursue -- including convincing the stronger members of your crew to take load off of you.
posted by bumpkin at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, a bit of casual googling reveals the terrain to be much more mellow than what I had thought. Looks like a beautiful place. Maybe you wouldn't be poorly served on the lighter side of the spectrum something like 50 - 70mm at waist, +/- edges, waxless base, NNN-BC binding. Rent/hire it together, don't borrow skis that are too long / not right for you.
posted by bumpkin at 10:53 AM on August 27, 2012

In case anyone wants an update -

When my friends found I was planning on skipping the trip, they offered a compromise, so I went after all. They offered to carry the heavy stuff, to arrange for us to stay in the one hut for all three nights, so that we could leave the packs there and explore the area during the day pack-free, and that we could leave after one or two nights if the weather got unpleasant, or if I wasn't having fun.

I am SO glad I went.

For one thing, bumpkin was right: the terrain was totally mellow. It was nothing like the previous two-day trip I had done, and the people on that trip who said this area was similar must have been smoking something interesting. Or possibly to sufficiently advanced skiers, both areas look equally easy. Or maybe that two-day trip really toughened me up and I have improved enough to make it seem easy. But in any case, there was nothing I would call steep, just lots of gently rolling hills and long slow slopes. I didn't cry once :) and I only fell about three times in the whole four days.

Which brings me to the pack. I was really surprised to find that skiing with a pack doesn't actually seem any harder to me than skiing without one. Not on these gentle slopes, anyway. It's more tiring and you end up with sorer back and shoulder muscles, but I didn't find it changed my balance much. The few times I fell were not because of the pack, but I did find it harder to get up again while wearing it, so I had to take it off.

And finally the skis. Fshgrl was totally right about how much easier the NNN BC gear is than telemarks. Oh. My. God. I don't know if I could ever go back to teles. The light comfortable boots are amazing. And uphill is so much faster, even when you have to herringbone or side step.

Thanks for all the advice (even if I didn't entirely follow it)!
posted by lollusc at 3:11 AM on September 13, 2012

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