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thoughts on touring gear

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
First of all, many people who post on this board are WAY more experienced ski tourers than me - not intending to offer any egg sucking lessons to grandparents - but I thought it might be worth offering my lessons learned to any off piste skiers moving into touring or side country tourers thinking about true ski mountaineering.

When you are skinning 1000m per day to reasonable altitudes weight really matters - you'll enjoy it more carrying less and every little counts

I knew this but now I really KNOW it. I took quite a lot of equipment with me that worked but was heavier than it needed to be. I did that partly because I had this gear already and wanted to use it (for partly sentimental reasons) but also because I thought I'd cope OK. When you spend several hours at just below your aerobic threshold chasing a superfit mountain guide your sense of the ideal trade off changes! When I'm above 3000m I find that if I get pushed through my aerobic threshold it takes me a little while to get back on top of my breathing - a bit more margin would have been nice (or more time to acclimatise).

Anyway examples of gear choices:

rucksack - I used a Deuter Guide 35+. It's a bloody good alpine pack - comfortable, very stable, well thought out features, tough - but it isn't light at about 1700g. If you want one pack for rock climbing, alpine mountaineering and ski touring it is a classic choice but if you are not going to be dragging it up rock faces and mixed gullies then you can go quite a lot lighter. Our guide used a really nice Salomon X-Alp 30 which is only 1000g. I'm also looking at Deuter Pace 30 which looks really good at 870g. 700-800g is a BIG saving

(boot) crampons - I took some full on B3 step ins that I have had since my mountaineering days (25 years ago!). They must be 1000g. You can get lightweight crampons at 400-500g. They wouldn't stand up to a lot of mixed use or big climbs on front points but that is not what ski tours really involve

ice axe - I used a fairly traditional mountaineering axe - not a real technical tool but one that is suitable for climbing steep sections in mixed gullies. These are weighted to swing and penetrate hard ice - again this is not typical ski touring stuff. When you need an axe you will normally be using the shaft to provide security when walking and perhaps occasionally "daggering" the pick on steeper sections but seldom swinging it. Lighter and a bit longer is better and there are loads of really light touring axes on the market

clothing - I actually got this about right - lightweight goretex shell, softshell pants, merino base layer, fairly lightweight gloves plus lightweight fleece hoody (only wore early morning). In the pack - spare socks, spare base layer, 3/4 tights, down vest, buff, sun hat. I did bring some spare gloves but I wouldn't next time.

excess tat - far too much of this! Took two phones (I know...) and a good compact camera. In theory the weight of the camera was justified but in practice I seldom felt I had the time to spend making the most of it and the iphone would have been adequate. If I'd been lighter and faster then may be that would have been different. I actually carried two head torches by accident (idiot!). A pack of cards - not used and you can generally find some in the huts. Too much duct tape/cord/cable ties "just in case" - a small kit is sensible but could go minimal and shared across the group. Too many stuff sacks, crampon bags, etc - it all adds up. I also carried two mars bars and two muesli bars back down with me - clearly unnecessary.

And then there is the big question about skis/bindings/boots!

I used my whitedot R108CL 186cm with Beast 14s and fischer transalp lite boots
It's really a freeride set up although the boots are middle weight touring boots rather than stiffer/heavier freeride boots.
In my view it is far from ideal for late season ski mountaineering - don't get me wrong, it all worked but I don't think there was a single moment when I wouldn't have been better (or at least no worse) with a narrower, shorter, lighter ski and lighter binding.
The obvious stuff - you are spending most of your time on the uphill. Wider gains you nothing and costs you weight and energy. Longer gains you nothing and costs you weight and energy. You really need to believe the pay back on the down hill is big to compensate for the fact you will be more tired.
The less obvious stuff -
uphill - wide skis are a disadvantage when you are traversing across steep neve. You slip more which takes energy to recover, you are tenser, you reach for your couteau earlier/more often which makes you less efficient. On the third day the first couple of hours from the Conscrits involved a long traverse on neve with a section of downhill traverse too short to justify removing skins. Trying to ski a downward traverse on crisp neve with only your toes fixed on 108mm waist skis is bloody awkward - you just have very little control from the toes back. Would be much better with edges closer to your feet. I took a fall - no damage, not really dangerous but energy sapping and in a different situation
downhill - in a mixture of neve, wind crust, shallow powder, spring snow and chalk 108mm offers nothing over 88mm in my view. On the firmer snow (say traversing an icy patch) they are inferior. In April you can't expect to be in boot top powder much of the time.
I'd say R108s are ideal for soft snow sidecountry freeriding or even skiing couloirs in soft conditions but for late season ski mountaineering I'd go with something 176cm ish and 88mm waist and LIGHT.
One further comment - there were about 40 pairs of skis at the Conscrits hut when we were there - mine were the biggest!
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Yeah, well, at least you didn't have an ABS. Laughing

First of all Beast Bindings - I mean who came up with the idea of making a Tech binding as heavy as a traditional ski touring binding? Coupled with your fat skis the whole rig is going to be big and heavy on the up and big and heavy on the down when you may encounter some sketchy terrain. But if that is all you have well you'll just have to accept it.

But for high altitude touring you are going to have to suffer some weight - harness, crevasse rescue gear, rope (now they are heavy to carry). Steel crampons and ice-axe are a good idea if you are on glaciated terrain. Climbing helmet of course. So I don't think your crampons and axe were out of place for what you were doing.

On non glaciated day ski touring I would use a ski mountaineering rucksack (around 650 grammes), I always think it is worth taking crampons, water and something to eat and that is it. Better to move fast and light.
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@jedster, it really does depend on the conditions / forecast and what your itinerary might be.

Glacial hut to hut is a whole different ball game to non glacial and hut to hut is totally different to day touring - and remember guides will always carry a whole load of get out of jail gear.

Couple of months back did a couple of big mountaineering days in Chamonix but knowing that there was powder to be had and it was only two days, I opted for K2 Coombacks Dynafit ST 2.0s at 115 but on the first day run-out I really wished I had been on narrower skis!

Then six day hut to hut in the Alpes Maritimes opted for my trusty Scott Powdair along with Vipecs as I know these can handle deep powder as well as other snow pack (and run-outs) and a good light set-up (skins are uber light).

When doing more simplistic day touring / slack country then ski choice is based on conditions, and with classic spring snow then it's my Scott SuperGuide 88's again matched up with uber light skins and Dynafit ST 2.0s.

This year I invested in a new harness, Petzl Tour which is uber light and packs really small and Petzl Leopard crampons, again uber light - these two purchases alone have saved some serious weight as well as packing space, but obviously don't have the need to use these on more mundane touring.

And these are the best investment you can make at €5.00



And I will also tour with an ABS when conditions route dictate rolling eyes
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Interesting thread. In a couple of weeks time, I will have my first taste of ski touring (in Riksgränsen), having taken up skiing five years ago. I'm assuming I'll like it, and starting to think ahead about touring kit. Although I'm not entirely sure what type of touring I'll do, my son is too young so I doubt I'll be doing any on family ski holidays. Probably then long weekends/short weeks with a mate/group in Sweden or Norway.

I love my Line Sir Francis Bacon skis and first thought was put a frame binding on these - continue to use them for everything as I do now - and then decide later if I want to go down the tech binding route. But at 184cm, 107mm underfoot, and 2.1kg a ski they are not that light... Probably this is still the sensible route until I get more serious about it. But on other equipment I've regretted getting a stop gap, and wished I'd thought more wisely from the start. Thoughts anyone?
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@Themasterpiece, Riks is quite low (500m) and there's not a massive amount of vertical, though that said where you heli to is around 1,500 so you might well end up doing 1,000m climbs but it's much kinder on the body starting at 500m and topping out around 1,500m, so I think you'll be able to get away with your setup.

Best of luck, and Riks is a great little place, I've done three trips there, only a couple of days after ski touring in Lyngen.
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@Weathercam, this time I'll hire skis and skins - they had some Cham 107 with guardians - but it's really just an intro. Really looking forward to it though!
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@Themasterpiece, heli is not too expensive there Cool
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Quote:

But if that is all you have well you'll just have to accept it.



well for the timebeing I won't do enough hut to hut / ski mountaineering stuff to justify another set up and the R108s are be great for side country day tours plus lift served off piste. There is a good shop in Les C that hires loads of up to date touring gear at very reasonable prices - next time for hut to hut I'll hire some lighter/shorter/narrower skis and bindings.

Quote:


But for high altitude touring you are going to have to suffer some weight - harness, crevasse rescue gear, rope (now they are heavy to carry). Steel crampons and ice-axe are a good idea if you are on glaciated terrain. Climbing helmet of course. So I don't think your crampons and axe were out of place for what you were doing.


a lot of that stuff I didn't mention because I think there is less choice involved. We did carry climbing helmets although they stayed in the bags - wasn't a time when we felt exposed to rock or ice fall.
I think alloy crampons and ice axes are adequate for glacier walking and snow ridges. Do you disagree?
Our guide carried the rope of course. I need to get a shorter / lighter one for glacier safety than the 70m single rope that is the only one I own (mainly for easy sport climbing). Guide recommended 30m half rope which you can get at not much over 2kg I think. Still the heaviest thing in the pack if your skis are on your feet!
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Quote:

When doing more simplistic day touring / slack country then ski choice is based on conditions, and with classic spring snow then it's my Scott SuperGuide 88's again matched up with uber light skins and Dynafit ST 2.0s.


That's exactly the sort of thing I'd say is ideal for most touring duties. The extra weight of skins is another case against fatter skis of course.

Personally I'm very confident skiing even quite deep powder on 88s. I may not be able to rip it up as much as I could on fat skis but if your up a big mountain in glaciated terrain, you need to be a bit circumspect about your speed anyway!
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jedster wrote:

I think alloy crampons and ice axes are adequate for glacier walking and snow ridges. Do you disagree?


Yup, if you are on a glacier take steel. Alloy crampons are ok on neve. Favour crampons over couteaux if the conditions look in any way marginal. Your biggest risk this time of year is falling.

Your skis are sub-optimal but should be fine climbing at a reasonable 250/300 meters hour. Again this time of year edge hold is important and also not too long as you often have some narrow passages to negotiate.
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Quote:

Yup, if you are on a glacier take steel. Alloy crampons are ok on neve.


fair enough
Our guide recommended alloy for the kind of stuff we were doing but opinions differ. He did mention he was looking at some new titanium ones which are probably the best of both worlds
I did a bit of googling and some people climb pretty desperate stuff in alloy crampons!
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@jedster,

Valuable observations which similar experiences have largely taught me.

Did a bit of touring last season with a setup similar to yours (Praxis Backcountry 106 underfoot with Beast 14, Vulcan boots). When we did a 2 day trip I also had similar food for thought.

We went from the Argentiere glacier to the Col de Chardonnet, down to the Selina glacier, Fenetre de Selina, and to the Trient hut. Classic day 1 Haute Route. The next day skin up to the Aiguille du Tour, and down the Grands and Bron glaciers to Trient. On day 1 I spent every second of the 1000m of skinning working out in pounds and ounces, and Kilos and grams, exactly how much weight I was dragging on each foot, how much lighter my companions' equipment was, and how much money I had to hose at a solution (I know about getting fitter too!)

Invested in Salomon MTN Explore 95 177's, with Dynafit Superlite 2 in the summer and it was money well spent. Huge difference on the up, and perfectly good going down. A kilo saved on the end of each leg.

I always go out with the same group of 2/3 chums, so we are all responsible for each other's safety so all have same safety gear; 30cm rope, crevasse rescue paraphernalia, avalanche stuff, etc as team kit. Nothing you can do about that. We are almost always on the glaciers.

The personal equipment can be a complex and subtle choice. I note that you did the Domes de Miage, and with stout crampons. Personally I would not fancy being up there with aluminium crampons. There is some weight saving to be done with modern steel versions (replaced my Mk1 Grivel Rambo's saving over 300g).

In the last month or so we have done a number of 1000m ish days, plus 3 x 2 day trips to climb the Grande Lui, Gran Paradiso and last week Mont Dolent. Because I am weak, feeble and old I carry less than you or I wouldn't get up. 30l 1kilo bag so no temptation to overfill. Thermal vest, fleece and light shell, plus long johns and soft shell trousers is it for clothes. And a wide brim cricket hat. 1 set of spare gloves between the group. Lightweight axe. I suppose my one luxury is a litre of tea.

In summary, I suppose you have to know where you are going, what conditions are like, and the expected weather. Take just what you really need.

As a final observation, all 3 two day routes we did (each which involved a minimum of 2000m ascent over the 2 days) were accomplished in a day by French rando guy hordes. Most had no harness, rope, crampons, axe, or anything other than Lycra as far as I could see. Sub 1kilo boots and weightless stick skis. Not for me, but they seemed ok.
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jedster wrote:
Quote:

Yup, if you are on a glacier take steel. Alloy crampons are ok on neve.


fair enough
Our guide recommended alloy for the kind of stuff we were doing but opinions differ. He did mention he was looking at some new titanium ones which are probably the best of both worlds
I did a bit of googling and some people climb pretty desperate stuff in alloy crampons!


Titanium might be interesting. You should be able to get some ski touring crampons in steel around 800 g, aluminium around 400 g - it is not a big difference in a rucksack so no point taking risks. You can end up on some pretty sketchy terrain ski touring - down a crevasse it would be good to have steel if you need to use them.

I'm talking glacial ski touring. On snow aluminium is okay.

Again, ice axe steel head at least for glacial use where you may need to cut through ice to make a belay for crevasse rescue or other things.
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A good compromise on crampons for glacier travel is the Petzl Irvis Hybrid, which combines a steel front part and alloy heel: comes in at 500g, saving at least 300g over all steel cramps https://www.petzl.com/GB/en/Sport/Crampons/IRVIS-HYBRID - used them in anger last month, front pointing up a frozen waterfall and they were good Smile
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I went from Garmont Delirium freeride boots to Scarpa Maestrale this year saving a kilo a foot, about 10 tonnes less mass over a typical 10,000 step/5km tour, great boot to ski in too Very Happy
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davidof wrote:

First of all Beast Bindings - I mean who came up with the idea of making a Tech binding as heavy as a traditional ski touring binding?


Is that what you meant to say? I thought tech and touring bindings were the same thing?
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@Mosha Marc, tech are pin bindings, two pins at the front and back usually a la the Dynafit patent (now run out, hence all the new versions of a tech binding) - traditional touring binding are almost a frame binding and still a lot of people use them, but they are so heavy!!!

I have them (Salomon Guardian) on my Scott Cascade - though only have one ski till I go back up and find the other!

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@Weathercam, gotcha, thanks.

davidof, FWIW the Beasts sit between the two weight wise.
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Quote:

davidof, FWIW the Beasts sit between the two weight wise.


and of course you don't have to lift the frame and heel piece with every skinning stride as you do with a frame binding.

That said, we discussed this a while back and I have some sympathy with the suggestion that Arno made that a better alternative than beast 14 may be skis quiver killered for rad 2s and, say, guardians.

beast 14 is really a freeride binding and makes sense for someone who prefers to do most of their lift served skiing in touring/free ride boots with tech fittings. TBH I thought that was me but turns out it isnt.
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jedster wrote:
......beast 14 is really a freeride binding and makes sense for someone who prefers to do most of their lift served skiing in touring/free ride boots with tech fittings.


Which is me (ish) with the occasional days walk thrown in.
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Very interesting thread I've only just seen this here's my set up which is still work in progress, you can never get it perfect.

Skis Scott Fly'air with vipec bindings 175cm length 118 - 78 - 106 widest skis I've owned but I like them 3.7kg for the pair.
Boots Scarpa Maestrale size 30 3.4kg per pair. That equals 3.55kg per foot.

Black Diamond skins = 500g
Vipec harscheisen = 330g

Ice axe Petzl Snowracer = 360g. alloy shaft, steel head, a fair compromise for touring.
Boot crampons Grevel Haute Route = 550g. steel toe, alloy heel, again a compromise.

Transceiver = 250g
Probe = 250g
Shovel Black Diamond = 750g

Harness Black Diamond Couloir = 300g
Rope Beal 30m x 8mm = 1.2kg

Rucksack? I've tried loads over the years still not found the ideal one. The latest offering have been Gregory Targee has all the features you're ever likely to want but heavy nearly 2kg, and hold you very stiff. Also, Black Diamond speed 40, really a climbing sac with very few features and a weird tenancy to slide around on your back when skiing. I might have a look at the Deuter Pace.
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Rucksacs:

For something tough as old boots look at the Deuter Guide range - something like the 35+, but check which size is most suitable for you. The women's versions (short back) have 'SL' in the title and 'EL' is for long backs. Weighs about 1.5kg.

For something very light weight look at the Osprey Mutant 38. Again, check your size - S/M or M/L. All the loops you need and Mrs A's S/M is under 1kg. If you're really packing light try the 28 version.
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Haven't rented touring skis for over a decade as my touring boots are tech fit only and I have two touring ski setups. (83mm and 98 mm wide skis)

Now that the tech patent has run out are touring skis with tech bindings widely available to rent or are only traditional frame type touring binding setups available?
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@DB, It depends on the area, well known touring areas will have tech binding skis for hire, particularly more technical ski shops. You probably won't have the same range as for piste skis, but I've been in shops with 30-40 pairs in racks, others have had try 'before you buy' brand new skis and tech bindings.
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@DB, some definitely do, but I wouldn't like to bank on it without checking beforehand. Even in Andorra though a shop fit a group of 7 or so of us out with tech bindings (and boots), even if the skis were a little archaic.
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So they offer a rental version of the tech bindings? - if so I take it the downsides over having your own tech setup could be increased weight of the rental binding (how much?) and fore/aft placement on the ski? (e.g. where the toe is fixed someone with smaller feet would be further forward on the ski)
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DB wrote:
Haven't rented touring skis for over a decade as my touring boots are tech fit only and I have two touring ski setups. (83mm and 98 mm wide skis)

Now that the tech patent has run out are touring skis with tech bindings widely available to rent or are only traditional frame type touring binding setups available?

The lack of availability of tech bindings on rental skis has nothing to do with the product patents etc but more to do with the availability, price and safety of 'demo/rental' versions of the tech bindings. Tech binding makers have always made 'demo/rental' versions of their bindings (ie they'll accept the full range range of adult boot sizes) however they were not DIN compliant and are considerably more expensive than the standard version of the same tech binding which in turn is considerably more expensive than a framed touring binding. Standard frame bindings have the benefit of accepting any sole type and a very wide range of sole lengths. More importantly, the frame bindings are DIN compliant which is really important to a shop re liability etc.

The relatively recent advent of DIN certified tech bindings allows for a shop to offer the test/demo versions of the Beast 14, Radical 2 ST, Kingpin and Vipec bindings which have length adjustable tracks at both the toe and the heel. However they are still considerable more expensive than a frame binding, plus of course they can only be used with tech boots so for these reasons you still won't see many of them available.

Were you will see tech rental bindings is on actual demo touring skis so users can try the ski with their tech boots boot prior to potential purchase etc, but these skis aren't usually available for rental.

The skis brands that I'm primarily involved with (Whitedot, Scott, Blizzard & Dynastar) now have the appropriate demo skis available to try that are mounted with tech test/demo versions of Rad 2's and Kingpins etc whereas a couple of seasons ago they'd have been mounted with frame bindings.

The Test version of the Rad 2 ST/Beast 14 binding adds no height to the binding but adds about 125g per single toe/heel. The Demo version of the Kingpin 10 adds about 8-10mm stack height over a standard Kingpin and about 175g per single toe/heel. So either of these bindings is still lighter than the lightest frame bindings with the benefit of not lifting the frame/heel every stride and with a way more natural pivot point.
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Here's a pic of the Rad 2/Beast 14 sliding Test toe. Combined with the standard large range of heel adjustment on these bindings (20/25mm) the Test toe will allow the use of boots from 270-345mm bsl whilst keeping the boot centre over the mounting line (or near enough).

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Quote:

Now that the tech patent has run out are touring skis with tech bindings widely available to rent or are only traditional frame type touring binding setups available?


don't know in general but the shop that rents ski touring gear in Les Contamines has 80%+ of its touring gear mounted with tech bindings
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@spyderjon, jedster, clarky999 & PowderAdict,

Thanks for the info. My touring boots only weigh around 2.2 kg per pair but won't take a frame binding (Dynafit TLT6 Carbon).
Up until now testing / renting skis with my current touring boots has been a no go.
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On touring skis I find it's not just about width, weight & length but also flex, stiffness & dampness. The last 90mm wide touring skis I had were stiff underfoot and softer in the tip /tail. Good for uniform powder or hard conditions (reasonable on the piste) but in mixed conditions (the conditions I normaly experienced) they were easily deflected and thrown around. Also read reports which have said some of the wider carbon skis aren't very damp at speed, their very low weight leads to chatter. Using another good bit of Arno's advice I saved weight on boots and bindings but went for low weight all-mountain skis as they deal better with the stuff I normaly ski on a ski tour. (e.g. Tracked powder, refrozen crud etc)
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Quote:

Also read reports which have said some of the wider carbon skis aren't very damp at speed, their very low weight leads to chatter.

have to say that is not a problem with R108CLs - they are very stable. Limitations are more fiddling around the mountain in dicier/icier spots
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DB wrote:
On touring skis I find it's not just about width, weight & length but also flex, stiffness & dampness.


I'd say the same any skis for any purpose tbh wink
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jedster wrote:
Quote:

Also read reports which have said some of the wider carbon skis aren't very damp at speed, their very low weight leads to chatter.

have to say that is not a problem with R108CLs - they are very stable. Limitations are more fiddling around the mountain in dicier/icier spots


Yes looking at the weights, your carbon whitedots don't look overlight at circa 3.5 kg/pair (186 cm). Something like a Scott Superguide 88 @ 178 would save you around 500 gram per foot which is significant for long tours. Are you thinking of downsizing?
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clarky999 wrote:
DB wrote:
On touring skis I find it's not just about width, weight & length but also flex, stiffness & dampness.


I'd say the same any skis for any purpose tbh wink


Laughing Yes but with touring skis you have the added weight constrictions.

Even if you have more than one pair of touring skis you don't know exactly how the snow is until you get up there. As conditions vary widely even on the same ski tour a good all rounder is probably the best bet unless you can afford your own human ski caddy or ski delivery drone wink
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Quote:

Yes looking at the weights, your carbon whitedots don't look overlight at circa 3.5 kg/pair (186 cm). Something like a Scott Superguide 88 @ 178 would save you around 500 gram per foot which is significant for long tours. Are you thinking of downsizing?


I'm not thinking of losing the R108s - they are my go-to ski in most conditions whether that is lift served or earlier season day tours. At this point I plan to hire something like Superguide 88s for future hut to hut / ski mountaineering stuff. For now, the number of days I do that makes it hard to justify another set of skis/bindings/skins/crampons - our local hire shop has that kind of gear and is pretty reasonable.
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