Backcountry Skiing’s Ann Landers – Ask Lou?

Post by blogger | September 2, 2008      

When the crisp air of September gusts your town like something splashed from a mouthwash advertisement (whoops, did I write that?!), thoughts of backcountry skiing gear surface like sharks rising to tasty chum scattered by eager fisherman (ok, ok, I’ll stop…).

In cubicles and wireless hotspots across this great nation, keyboards click and monitors burn with queries about the latest tools. Magazine gear guides become dog eared, but their brevity and advertiser appeasement dilute their power. Shop employees may help, but their eyes glaze over when asked about things like ramp angle, binding flex and sock construction. Forget all those sources. WildSnow is here for you.

Lou, love your site, I check it almost daily all year long. I have never owned an AT set up. I have looked at reviews and tried to get as much info from the site as possible but I wanted some suggestions from the horse’s mouth. I know you’ve got tons of reviews a person can find with your search box or by using your categories, but I figure folks may be buying gear soon so it would be good to get a more immediate take. So following is my question:

I am an advanced intermediate alpine skier, beginner tele and snowboarder. I am 5’10” (gulp) 240 lbs. So I need some beefier gear.

I saw the Scarpa Spirit for sale for $209, would you recommend them?

I also would like to have gear on the lighter side but still have the heft I need for my heft.

Any help is appreciated and thanks.


T, first off you WILL loose some of that heft if you get some backcountry skiing gear and start uphilling. And as you allude to, gulp, you need to do that (the weight part).

All backcountry skiing gear is designed for average weight users. The only reason it works for big guys is that it’s over engineered so it’ll hold up with time or heavy use. Thus, If a guy like you straps on a backpack and asks any binding and boot to handle nearly 300 lbs (you, backpack, boots, clothing, etc.), you’d better be looking for beef and not worrying about weight (of the gear).

What’s more, the effect of weight savings in your skis/boots/bindings is only as effective as a percent of your total body weight. Thus, if you’re a big boned guy who will always be somewhat heavy, you need to be on gear that’s proven to work well for the large, and not be thinking about trimming ounces from your boots/skis/bindings. Ounces that will have little to no effect other than imaginary.

From an athletic training point of view, it’s also important to remember that loosing fat weight is incredibly effective in terms of endurance, and much more important than shedding gear weight.

I’ll use myself as an example. With the help of our terrific WildSnow sponsors I get to ski with the lightest gear on the planet. Adding to that, I’m always experimenting with trimming grams. All fun. But when I really notice my uphill speed increase is when I simply loose a pound or two of fat. That’s because body fat is not only baggage, but detracts from blood supply your muscles could use.

Granted, I’m not carrying a lot of extra body weight so a bit of loss makes a large percentage difference in my case. But my point is that people with lots of body fat should devote nearly ALL their weight worries to shedding even mere ounces, rather than directing much (if any) money or mental energy to how light their ski gear is.

Specifics, assuming you’ll really be using this stuff for uphilling in powder and natural snow conditions:

First, I’d advise you to go with AT gear. You’re already a good alpine skier. Why learn a new way of skiing (tele) when you’ve got the whole wild world of the backcountry to break any boredom you might have with the alpine turn?

For skis, stick with wider but don’t go too wide as the real fatties pile up with snow and may become difficult during the uphill, if not downright bad for your hips and knees. So go with something at around 95 mm at the waist or a bit wider. In terms of ski length, go a bit longer than “normal,” probably in the 185 cm range.

To support your mass you do need a beefy boot, but vary that by your style of skiing. If you’re a mellow skier, get any of the hefty 4 buckle boots. Spirit 4 you mentioned would be fine, as would many of the new overlaps such as Dynafit ZZeus. If you ski fast and huck, at your weight you should be at the upper end of the scale in terms of boot beef, such as the Garmont Endorphin or Black Diamond Factor. If this is a cross-over setup that’ll be used quite a bit at the resort, consider simply using any alpine boot that opens up enough for walking, or has a walk/ski mode switch.

In terms of bindings, with guys like you I feel there are two choices. If you don’t charge too hard and are doing mostly backcountry, go with the Fritschi Freeride. If you’ll usually be using this gear on the ski hill or otherwise mechanized, go with the Marker Duke. Have your bindings mounted by a pro (by “pro” I don’t mean a kid with an apron and a screw gun who’s three brews into his latest sixer, but rather a guy who actually knows what he’s doing), and request that the screws be set with epoxy.

WildSnow comment minions, you got some ideas on how to set up gear for bigger folks?


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41 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing’s Ann Landers – Ask Lou?”

  1. Matt September 2nd, 2008 11:32 am


    If you decide to go with the Fritchi Freeride Plus (which I do love) make sure you set the toe height correctly. If you just put your boot in the binding on the shop bench and adjust the toe piece without stepping in the binding, when you get to the hill your skis will be shaking like crazy. These bindings have some give to them so you have to step in the skis on the shop floor, lean back, and let someone adjust the toe height with your weight affecting them.

    Now, before you actually take this advice, know that with my pair of Fritchi’s I have to do this. I am not sure if all pairs out of the box are the same. Anyone have an opinion on that?

  2. Lou September 2nd, 2008 12:11 pm

    Matt and all, if you crank that toepiece down too far it’ll break and/or compromise your safety release. It’s correct to have a tiny amount of up/down play in the boot. I adjust by placing a sheet of paper on the AFD, and with the person’s weight gently rocked back on their heels you should be able to pull the paper out without tearing. Same on the bench, without a person in the binding. For casual use, the thickness of a credit card can be better, to insure uninhibited side release.

  3. Aaron September 2nd, 2008 12:15 pm

    For what it’s worth, at $209 I suspect T.H. must have been talking about the Scarpa Spirit 3. I’ve never seen the Spirit 4 at that price point.

  4. Lou September 2nd, 2008 12:23 pm

    Yeah Aaron, I think you’re correct, though perhaps he has the ultimate pro deal or something. For him at his weight I’d generally forgot 3 buckle boots unless he’s just doing super moderate tours.

  5. ScottN September 2nd, 2008 12:24 pm

    Totally agree with losing body weight instead of just trying to make up for it via lightweight gear. I wish I could get back to my 5’7″ 135 lb 23 year old frame. Now I’ve shrunk to 5’6″ -ish and come in at near 165 lbs. But I used to weigh near 190 lbs about five years ago. Running saved me (cycling helped too..). It took a while, but the lbs came off. Good link above Lou to the fat issue. Now if I could just get back to around 145 lbs I’d be happy, lighter and probably faster. Maybe get a blog going about this issue. I’m sure there’s lots of good ideas out there from everyone.

  6. dave downing September 2nd, 2008 1:14 pm

    @lou. as someone bigger than yourself, i must veto a few of your suggestions. If this set up is a cross-over setup, then use the cross-over boots such as the listed Zzeus, Factors (and Methods) or Garmont Radium. They ski like an alpine boot (the first 3 offer Alpine soles) and have a great walk mode. The quickest way to hate going uphill is to use alpine boots in my opinion.

    As for binders, i agree. Go with Dukes for a lot of resort days. but if you can afford a separate Backcountry setup get a pair of fritchis or dynafits (or anything with more heel height options than the dukes.

    And finally, skier weight. I dropped nearly 10 pounds off my “set up” this winter! And even with that weight loss I still had some of the beefiest boots on the market with 185cm / 95mm waist skis 🙂 Body weight is by far the cheapest upgrade on the market.

  7. TH September 2nd, 2008 1:28 pm

    Aaron, after further review you are correct, they were the Spirit 3’s AND they were some sort of cheap version (or so a guy who bought them was quoted as saying after purchasing them) so thank you for the suggestion. I saw them on Sierra Trading Post and they did seem to good to be true. I have seen that some boots are not compatible with Dynafit bindings, what is all that about? And, I am huge fan of online shopping. For ski gear I check Sierra Trad Post, Backcountry, and Craigslist. Siniagrab was a waste of time for AT gear. I literally asked 3 different people if they had any AT equipment and none of them even knew what I was talking about, pretty funny. In town (in town being Denver metro) I check Bent Gate in Golden, Alpenglow in Golden, and Colorado Ski and Golf. Any other on-line or in town shops for me? Last, I just need to say how cool Lou is. I randomly send him an e-mail for some help on gear suggestions and he is nice enough to post this blog entry. Thanks again Lou.

  8. Dave September 2nd, 2008 1:44 pm

    @TH: for the record, Garts (aka Sniagrab) hires pretty much anyone to work there. For example I spent 2 years working the sale in college. Seriously, who’s in charge of employee quality control?

  9. Lou September 2nd, 2008 1:55 pm

    While I can’t believe Dave contradicts Ann “Lou” Landers, there is some wisdom in what he says. If you’re planning a lot of climbing, and can drop fairly large amounts of weight from your gear, then doing so is a consideration. Mostly, I’m trying to get a guy as big as TH to not be a weight weenie about his gear. As for Dynafit bindings, they’re strong enough for most heavy guys, but the vertical elasticity in the heel release is a bit more limited than Fritschi and Duke, hence I tend to recommend the latter for larger guys, especially as a first AT binding since Dynafit asks a bit more from the user as it’s not 100% step-in, and has extra steps involved in using it correctly. Dynafit is still our favorite, and perhaps TH could graduate to it, but as a first-timer I’d start him out on Fritschi or Duke.

  10. Lynn September 2nd, 2008 3:39 pm

    TH, just tele, you can see how difficult these AT people can be. I’m sure if the real Ann Landers were out there she would be free heeling. I think I saw the “Hints from Heloise” lady at Marble last winter on a big pow day, knee dipping of course.

  11. TH September 2nd, 2008 3:56 pm

    Lynn, I tried and will try more but MAN it’s hard. And, after making some tele turns (kind of) I discovered I was more intrigued by the idea of tele than tele itself. I think AT is my future.

  12. ScottN September 2nd, 2008 4:01 pm

    per Lynn — yeah, I agree that tele skiing is just simpler (equipment wise at least), and it will make your quads way stronger, so you probably burn more fat than AT style (grin). And plus, it just looks and feels cooler…..
    TH, I’ve been tele-ing for about 10 yrs now and started on AT gear last spring. I love dropping my knees, but after doing a long uphill/downhill race last year, the tele equip just didn’t excite me that much. AT has changed all that for me. More versatile and lighter, and also just a lot of fun.
    I’ve had good luck shopping online at places like Marmot Mountain Works, Mammoth Gear and for AT gear. But good luck, its just plain expensive to buy all that gear, but worth it if you really want to hike for your turns regularly or just crank out up/down laps at a resort area.

  13. Chris September 2nd, 2008 4:27 pm

    TH –

    You might also want to check out Boulder Ski Deals – they usually have a pretty good early season sale and carry the more popular AT equipment. Neptune Mountaineering, also in Boulder, carries a decent selection as well. Beyond that you can try REI (downtown store is the best) or Wilderness Exchange (just up the street from REI). Employee knowledge varies a lot between stores and even between employees at the same store so make sure you do plenty of research and get plenty of opinions.

  14. Lou September 2nd, 2008 4:34 pm

    You guys, should we resurrect $1,000 Joe?


  15. Lynn September 2nd, 2008 4:51 pm

    TH, knee dipping in some deep powder is heavenly….. However the learning curve can be severe, trust me I know. That is the great thing about riding snow, many options and all can be great fun. Have a fun and safe riding season.

    Speaking of uphill/downhill races, is the 24 hours of Sunlight actually going to happen at Sunlight this year?? Anyone know, there was some question earlier this summer.

  16. Heloise September 2nd, 2008 6:53 pm

    Stay away from the tele skis. According to wikipedia, a telemark skier is “one who spends time with head stuck in snow, picking up hat and goggles and holds up friends. Usually on dope.”
    The best way to really burn calories is to get an A T setup with dynafit bindings. They are so light that uphilling is effortless. With all the energy saved, hiking down the hill looking for your pre-released skis will really ramp up that metabolism.

  17. JW September 2nd, 2008 8:05 pm

    Lou, I was surprised you recommended as fat as 95 mm. Is that the new standard? I thought the 84s I ski in the bc were a bit rotund.

  18. JW September 2nd, 2008 8:08 pm

    I have a question for Lou Landers. In a recent thread, one of your readers posted Garmont’s flex ratings for its AT boots. How accurate are these ratings? does anyone objective test AT boots for flex? And is forward flex as important w/ b/c boots as it seems to be with hard snow alpine boots?

  19. Hans September 2nd, 2008 8:50 pm

    Walked into Ski Rex yesterday at Colorado Ski and Golf and was super surprised by how much on sale AT gear they had there. Saw a pair of Fritschi’s on sale for a GREAT price (better than and my GF picked up a pair of Naxos 01s for 180$.
    They also had the Dukes and Barons however the price was not impressive at all.

  20. Kirk September 2nd, 2008 8:56 pm

    The $209 Scarpas are on sale at Sierra Trading Post. They have a heavy liner and aren’t Dynafit compatible but a few of my friends bought them and love them – think they were made for the Euro market and aren’t the same as Scarpa 3s.

    I weigh 250 and ski with 20 pounds on multi-day tours. I ski Dynafit and MegaRides. I also ski this rig in resorts, ski like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and probably get 60-80 days a year. I think even cornfed lads can push Dynafits pretty hard. I also have skied hard with Diamir 3s and Freerides (both Fritschis) without an issue. Occasionally I rip the pivot bolts (or whatever they are called) out of my boot cuffs but I can usually find someone in a ski shop to replace them for $5 or a six-pack.

  21. Jordan September 2nd, 2008 9:01 pm

    As a fellow big guy weighing 205 lbs and 6’4″…Here are a couple of my setups…
    BD zealots with freeride plus’s….scarpa tornado’s (is there a heavier boot?)

    Little lighter:
    BD kilowatts with freeride plus’s….tornados

    Lou knows I’m not much of a weight watcher when it comes to gear…but being as heavy as I am its nice to have a beefy setup. I’m still looking for places to lose weight…maybe I could get to 200

  22. Jordan September 2nd, 2008 9:05 pm

    Keep an eye on the heel piece on those Naxo’s your girlfriend bought. I broke it in half horizontally on Evans last year…But she probably isn’t quite as big.

  23. dave downing September 2nd, 2008 9:53 pm

    @JW: regarding the flex ratings, I say they are a “standard” so to speak, but they can give you a good idea of how stiff a boot is supposed to be. I don’t get caught up in the difference between a 100 and a 120 flex rating. However, if one boot claims 80 and another 110, 95% of the time the 110 is the stiffer boot for me. Take it with a grain of salt though.

  24. Lou September 3rd, 2008 7:04 am

    JW, yeah, 100 is the new 90.

  25. Lynn September 3rd, 2008 9:22 am

    Dear Heloise, ouch, I usually wear a helmet that stays on even in a header and I don’t smoke dope. As far as holding up other skiers, I look at as giving the AT skiers a chance to catch their breath, recovery time so to speak……

  26. Lynn September 3rd, 2008 9:24 am

    Carl, where is my tele backup, please don’t tell me you are working. These rando boys and girls are getting fiesty.

  27. Hans September 3rd, 2008 9:32 am

    Thanks for the heads up, she’s pretty tiny so I’m not too worried especially since I used the same bindings on Mt. Bakers all last season and haven’t had a problem. I’m pretty sure I’ve skied with you before and I’m pretty sure that your a more aggressive skier than she is. Ty’s roommate right?

  28. Dave September 3rd, 2008 9:47 am

    Shoot…I meant to say “…regarding the flex ratings, I say they are NOT a “standard” so to speak…” in my last post. I do NOT think flex ratings follow a standard. I promise.

  29. Dave September 3rd, 2008 9:48 am

    @Lou. 100 is the new 90 for you perhaps. But the rest of us are up to 110 already 😀

  30. Jonathan Shefftz September 3rd, 2008 9:55 am

    Just to clarify what some other posters have noted, the Scarpa boot in question is the “Spirit” — *not* the Spirit 3 or Spirit 4 — and is the pricepoint/rental/Dynacrippled/nonthermoliner version of the Spirit 3.
    The Scarpa website for Italy or Germany has many such econo versions of the Matrix, Laser, Magic, etc. (The “Avant” is one of the few ever to be officially distributed in North America.)
    I remember way back in 2001, at first I thought all sorts of guys at Chamonix huts were sporting the same Scarpa Magic women’s boot as my wife — then I realized they actually had a rental version of the Laser with a similar blue color as the Magic.

  31. Dan September 3rd, 2008 11:54 am

    Check out Gary Neptunes’ shop up in Boulder, Neptune Mountaineering. You can even rent and tryout different gear to see what you like and what works best.

  32. Randonnee September 3rd, 2008 11:55 am


    Go tour, have fun, do not be put off by skinny guys trying to advise someone (like you and I ) who weighs 100 kg or more!

    Of more importance than the weight is one’s fitness level. One’s fitness level is improved by engaging in a strenuous sport that one enjoys and wants to do. Skinny folk or “athletes” eventually learn to be impressed and even realize that that a large guy is an athlete when they see that large guy that perhaps does bench press reps at 300 lbs also will walk with them all day on skis at a good pace. Just accept your body and continue to improve it, and enjoy your sports.

    Gear considerations are indeed complex and of individual need/ preference/ purpose. In my view, your intended purpose for the gear and your skiing ability/ desire must be considered before saying this or that gear, 3 or 4 buckle, stiffness, etc. Where one skis and the type of snowpack and terrain also is a determinant of what gear to get.

    If you desire to tour efficiently and then make nice easy turns down the falline, randonnee gear is your choice. Even though I ski stiffer skis, and also three widths the same wider and narrower, I think that the K2 Shuksan is the best choice for a forgiving, functional all-around randonnee ski. I have skied the Shuksan, and my wife and two more normal-weight buddies ski on the Shuksan. A stiffer ski often requires better technique to use with ease- in other words if your technique is not up to the gear, the gear will work against you.

    In your case, a substantial boot that is comfortable for walking on skis and skiing is a primary consideration. I have no experience with Scarpa boots, so I will leave that evaluation to others. Considering your stated skill level, in my view, would indicate that a non-Dynafit binding could be a good choice until your ability allows for rare to no ski falls, because of ease of use in and out of the binding.

  33. Jordan September 3rd, 2008 10:27 pm

    Yep that me…I’m heavy

  34. Mike September 4th, 2008 4:00 pm

    Hi Lou. Noticing lot’s of fat ski recommendations (90+). Is this driven by skier size? I’m a life long skier/snowboarder looking for a AT setup for the Sierras. 5’10”, 200lb. I was thinking a 90ish waist 185is length ski (carbon 10s/havocs/jaks/bakers) would be an all-rounder for me. Am I hopelessly old school?


  35. Randonnee September 5th, 2008 5:42 pm


    I have 25 lbs on you and randonnee ski a lot, at least 3 days per week for about 6 months, and some summer trips.

    My three pairs of randonnee skis include 70, 80, and 88 waist. I may be on the Manaslu this season, a bit wider.

    My little 70 waist 174 cm Chogoris work just fine for me, but they are not skied in the same fashion as my bigger skis/ boots. My sense is that in the Alps there is a tendency for smaller width skis as well. No doubt, big skis are really fun in deep snow, but I also have fun on smaller skis. I think that there is a walking-penalty for the wider skis/ skins.

    It may be helpful to read my Guest Blog here on this topic-

    Best, Rob

  36. Stephen September 19th, 2008 1:43 pm

    I have an ask Lou question similar in theme to the one starting this thread, but much different details.

    I live in Colorado and am interested in getting into the backcountry this winter. I have done a good bit of research over the past year and am leaning toward some gear and would like your (and anyone else’s) opinion. I am a snowboarder, not skier, but am interested in learning backcountry skiing for the touring aspect. The touring is my priority, but I would also like something I can use on the occasional downhill without getting killed. I weight about 170, but am an amateur photographer and expect to be carrying a heavy pack of camera gear (and eventually winter camping gear). So, I want a set up that is study enough to be comfortable/safe, not so heavy that I’ll limit my range, and wide enough to have decent float in Colorado powder. I know those are some contradictory requirements, I’m looking for that happy median.

    Okay, here’s what I have in mind. I’m pretty much sold on the Dynafit bindings. Just trying to decide if those new FTs are worth the cost over the STs. That being said, I’m leaning pretty hard toward Scarpa boots. In particular, the F3 or the Terminator X. I like the toe flex which just seems to make sense for touring efficiency and comfort (do those FTs still need the riser plate with these boots?).

    That brings us to the skis. Since touring is my principle interest I have been thinking about the Karhu Guides since they have the waxless base which would eliminate stopping to take skins on and off (or at least reduce it since I have been told I will still need skins for really steep terrain anyway). I also like that the Guides are wider than most of the other cross country skis so it will give me better float on that great Colorado powder. Having said that, I am not completely closed minded to other suggestions. One thing I have eyed a bit are the Dynafit skis, but they tend to run a bit wider and would require skins for climbing. Am I making too big a deal about the skins? The Manaslus caught my attention since they are pre-drilled and I presume I could get the skis set up myself without a ski shop, but are they wider/heavier than makes sense for my touring focus? Am I too concerned about the effect of width on touring efficiency?

    Being a novice I find the ski choice particularly perplexing. I’d love to hear some suggestions. Also, I’d like to hear what you think about the overall combination of gear based on my specific purposes. Thanks.

  37. Lou September 20th, 2008 10:02 am

    Hi Stephen, I’d forget the fish scale skis and go with skins. Nearly all Colorado backcountry skiing trails are created assuming users have skins. Sure, on spring snowpack when you can go virtually anywhere without trail breaking, scales may work, but skins are the ticket in winter. Along with that, you can always bring some nordic wax for long flat sections, but you need to clean nordic wax off before applying skins, to avoid risk of contaminating your skin glue.

    As for width, I’d not worry about it. Though getting something super wide will indeed result in a ski that doesn’t tour all that great. I’d define super wide as wider than Manaslu.

  38. Stephen September 21st, 2008 11:53 pm

    Thanks for the response Lou. Based on your recommendation I will put the fish scales out of my mind. If I’m going to need to skin up anyway it seems silly. I had mentioned the Manaslu previously, but to be honest they had primarily caught my attention because of the pre-drilled mounts. After reading what you had to say about skins I took a harder look at some other skis, including the Manaslus. I found quite a few positive reviews for the Manaslu to include a glowing review on WildSnow. I’m left with two questions that I can’t seem to find an answer for anywhere else and was hoping you could help me with.

    First, I found one mention of the pre-drilled mounts size range starting at 25 on the small end, even with the adjustment range on the bindings. I tried on the F3s in a ski shop and was told that I was probably a 24.5 (though they didn’t have any in stock to try on). Assuming that estimate is accurate, I assume that means I would need to drill new holes anyway? And would the flexible toe on an F3 or Terminator cause any addition problems as far and mounting the bindings?

    Second, I can’t find any length to skier weight charts. What length should I be looking at? Recall that I’m about 170 but expect to have a heavy pack. Probably put up around 200 even with a light amount of camera gear. Should I go for the 178 cm or the 187 cm for the additional surface area and better float? I expect the longer length would sacrifice some maneuverability and increase the weight a bit. Are there any other drawbacks?

    Thanks again for your help. I can’t wait for winter to get here and start putting all this talk to action.


  39. Lou September 22nd, 2008 8:31 am

    I’d go for the 178. As for boot size, when you’re at the end of the range like that you’ve probably got to try the boot/binding combo on the pre-drilled ski before you know for SURE if the pre-drilled holes work or not for you. Since I don’t have that exact combo here, I’d be remiss to make a definitive statement about it.

  40. John December 8th, 2008 11:27 am

    Been subscribed via RSS to this site for about 18 months now & can’t get enough of the info up here.

    I’ve been a snowboarder the past 5 years (took to it very quickly) & feel very confident on all on piste terrain now, but haven’t been on skis since my teens (I’m 37 now). I’ve got long range plans of becoming more active in the backcountry sports. Figure the best way to enjoy it during the winter is on skis rather than a split board.

    With that said, I found a pretty good deal on some Megarides that fit me, so I splurged & bought them. But now I’m wondering…. & asking for input….

    Should I sell the Megarides & invest that money & little more on an intermediate alpine package set up as I move up the ski learning curve? Or should I just finish up buying the AT bindings & skis & use them as I go up the learning curve on-piste & eventually off?

    TIA for your comments

  41. Lou December 8th, 2008 11:45 am

    John, if you’re serious about learning alpine I’ll recommend to you what I say to everyone who asks this. Indeed do buy an alpine package and learn to ski on that stuff. But you should be able to find such a good deal on that, you won’t need to sell your Megarides. At the same time, look for deals and buy the parts for a backcountry setup.

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