7 Unanswered Questions of Ski Touring

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 28, 2018      
I actually don't drink all that much beer any more, but had a kliner Erdinger just to avoid being run out of town.

Not FRF.

Is inverse segregation a political issue?
Nope, “inverse segregation” is not some kind of affirmative action debate buzzword. It’s just the scientific term for the “Brazil nut effect” whereby larger objects in a debris flow tend to end up on top. It’s why avalanche airbags work. Or, rather, is it really? Instinct, of course, tells us an airbag floats us because it makes us lighter for our given volume. Experts tell me that “inverse segregation” has nothing to do with weight. So, if the avalanche airbag was filled with lead pellets instead of air, would it still work? That’s the unanswered question.

Are the latest helmets really much better than one I bought at the thrift shop?
Ah, MIPS, that holy grail of helmet technology that somehow makes what was already good, good again? Snowsports helmets do of course offer a modicum of protection. On the other hand, it is a laughably small amount. I won’t list the accidents we know of that involved horrible head injuries despite a helmet, but there’s plenty. Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Or, back in the helmet company accounting office, it’s all about an accessory that’s become a profitable commodity.

While it’s politically incorrect for me to say this, I’ll do it anyway. You can get a perfectly good used helmet at your local thrift shop for a dollar. Just check for cracks, make sure it’s not otherwise damaged (liner not compressed), good to go.

Ski industry, how to bypass the thrift-shop drain on your yearly corporate helmet fashion sales? First, make helmets look better (goggle gap, weird syfy shapes?) Next, make them fit better (that one is still all over the map). Third and most important, try to bypass the ugly scientific reality that simply making the helmet thicker could add a quantum leap in protection. How to avoid thicker? Add technology that increases protection but doesn’t increase volume. MIPS is said to do so. Reality? Incredibly difficult to do an epidemiological study that would prove MIPS actually works in real life. Meanwhile, the only common sense way I know of to improve helmets without increasing volume is reactive technology, essentially airbags that inflate upon impact. How that would be done in real life remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the unanswered question: does MIPS really work, is it any better than wearing a ski cap under your helmet? More reading.

What does DPS actually stand for?
Yes, we’ve blogged on that before. Yes, DPS has their own take. But we believe it remains a quandary, and perhaps should stay that way.

Will telemarking rise again after dropping to both knees?
Free heel skiing is very much alive and well, albeit in numbers at a mere fraction of the “revival” that peaked decades ago. In my view, the positive aspect of this is that the skiers I see telemarking are the hardest of the hardcore. No more linked fall amusement. Instead, these guys and gals have it down. They’re fun to watch, fun to ski with.

More, in a laughable shift of the paradigm, telemark gear that used to self-deconstruct with uncanny regularity is now for the most part reliable, while our fixed heel touring “AT” gear has seemingly endless issues.

My answer to the tele question is “probably not, it’s not coming back” Why? Two things brought the North American tele revival. First, fixed heel gear of the early days was heavy, ridiculously so. Second, European gear was designed for touring in the high alpine of the Alps. While North Americans did do alpine touring, the popularity of touring for pow turns is what drove our North American backcountry skiing industry for many years — early AT gear was torturous overkill for that endeavor. Telemarking wasn’t easy in those days, but once you learned the art it worked better than the euro gear for the sub-alpine (and sometimes alpine) pow fields.

Clearly, if fixed-heel gear had not gone through the amazing design evolution of the last thirty years, free-heel skiing would have remained a popular option. But that’s not what happened, and it never will again.

Are climbing skins really just strips of carpet?
Sometimes, yes. From what I’ve heard there are indeed textile makers, some say in Belgium, who do make material specifically for climbing skins. On the other hand, it’s said that the first self-adhesive nylon skins were indeed nothing more than conveyor belt “carpet” with glue applied to the backing. I’ve seen climbing skins in the final stages of manufacturing. In that particular factory, the stuff comes on big rolls and was stripped and shaped on a computerized laser cutting table.

Why is PBR still popular beer?
Because it’s mass produced and made partially from rice? I do not believe that’s the correct answer. Mystery remains. I don’t call it beer. It is fermented rice fluid, FRF.

Will global warming eliminate ski touring?
My take: Traditional haunts at lower elevations could entirely disappear, albeit some years from now rather than tomorrow. High elevation winter touring, such as is done in Colorado, will exist for decades though snow-rain lines will slowly creep uphill. What’s more interesting and quicker would be some sort of “Al-Gorian” event involving changing ocean currents or something else on a macro scale. Oddly enough, this sort of thing could plunge the Alps into an ice age. How fast can glaciers and ice caps develop? With fairly thick winter snowpack remaining through summer, the approximately 300-foot thick ice required for a glacier to flow could probably build up in 30 or 40 years, faster in places with wind loading or avalanche deposition.

Commenters, can you come up with any answers? Or how about more questions?


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37 Responses to “7 Unanswered Questions of Ski Touring”

  1. Spencer H. November 28th, 2018 10:45 am

    Climate Change, Helmets, AND Garbage Beer in one post? My oh my, pop the popcorn

  2. Lou Dawson 2 November 28th, 2018 11:45 am

    Ha ha! You forgot telemarking. (smile)

  3. PeterK November 28th, 2018 1:01 pm

    Not that I have ever tried it, but I think NNN BC is the future of telemark. You can ski 95% Wapta or Columbia icefields without having to make a turn. But a little more glide and not having to transition would be nice.

  4. James Baugh November 28th, 2018 1:13 pm

    I still am keeping my mind free by using 75mm tele boots most days. I just love the feel of dropping a knee. That said, I do now have an AT setup for days where the snow conditions are tricky or when my partners are all on AT gear.

    Will tele make a comeback?
    With the newer pin bindings (Meidjo, lynx, etc…) I think there is a better chance but, without great boot options I don’t see it. There are very few tele boot options that have the tech toes necessary to use these bindings and the ones that do all seem to be the stiffer boots. That is why I am still riding Scarpa T2s with the 75mm duck toe instead of switching to NTN. I predict that tele skiers will remain a small group of enlightened individuals that have found the divine turn that the rest of the world ignores.

    Would the world be a better & kinder place if everyone skied tele? Probably.

    Will we see that blissful day arrive? Probably not.

  5. Sather Ekblad November 28th, 2018 1:20 pm

    What do you call that great feeling of relaxation that comes after somebody says everything that you’ve been thinking….

    Thanks for speaking your mind and being in intelligent, amazing, inspirational dude

    now you can go pop your head in and fill it with some rice beer

    Cheers to snow and common sense

    Thx Lou

  6. VtVolk November 28th, 2018 2:17 pm

    Tele turns looks and feel sweet.

    My helmet holds my headlamp and goggles in the right place and keeps it all together when I crash in deep pow.

    Shaking a bag of pita chips brings all the biggest pieces to the top.

    I will never understand, however, why people buy PBR.

  7. Jim Milstein November 28th, 2018 2:49 pm

    NNN BC the future of telemark? In my foolish youth, I skied the north couloir of Torrey’s Peak with NNN BC gear and lived (no falls!). It is possible to do stupid things, but don’t.

    As Lou says, telly gear used to be much lighter than old school AT gear. Never again. That is why I switched. Other advantages to AT too, but the telemark turn can be fun and elegant. Sometimes I miss it but not when skiing uphill.

    About beer. Beer can be made from any number of fermentable grains including, even, rice. Lots of us think malted barley with a bit of hops makes really good beer. We are right, of course.

  8. Jake November 28th, 2018 4:18 pm

    Have you seen these?https://hovding.com/

  9. Lou Dawson 2 November 28th, 2018 5:07 pm

    Jake, yeah, I’ve been tracking such “reactive” technology for a few years. It has promise. Lou

  10. Jim Milstein November 28th, 2018 5:07 pm

    The Hovding helmet is interesting, but it is designed only for vanilla cycling, and one deployment is all you get. It is not at all clear how the Hovding could be redesigned for skiing.

    VtVolk is right that helmets have function beyond crash protection.

  11. AAG November 28th, 2018 6:22 pm

    Great post.

    Will telemark ever make a comeback? Once the % of skiers in the lifeline at Stratton / Stowe / Deer Valley / Aspen / Vail crosses 30% for a couple full seasons, and we start to hear more stories about people suffering fractures as a result of improper releases from people skiing on improper equipment in improper terrain I think we may see a resurgence in popularity. Heck, if you are willing to accept the increased risk of injury skiing lift served inbounds laps you might as well really standout on the slopes by linking the pettiest turns.

    As someone who learned to telemark to make skiing with my young children more enjoyable I can say two things:
    1. There is nothing more beautiful, graceful, or gratifying thank linking together telemark turns; and
    2. Fixed heeled skis are a better tool for every type of alpine ski conditions in all conditions; on piste and off.

  12. AAG November 28th, 2018 6:23 pm


  13. Mark Wisner November 28th, 2018 8:28 pm

    As someone who dropped a knee for almost 20 years and who’s wife tells him he should return to tele skiing because “you looked so beautiful linking tele turns” I can say this.. A sweet turn, whether carving a trench or floating in the pow, is a sublime feeling regardless of what gear you are on, dare I say even on a snowboard. I will say it seems a crappy turn on tele skis feels better than a crappy turn on fixed heels

  14. Jim Milstein November 28th, 2018 10:48 pm

    Old telemark skiers are swarming back here, at least with their memories.

    I grew up watching my father and uncles doing awkward telemark turns when they got into trouble. The telemark was the first turn they learned, but they were embarrassed about the telemark. Arlberg style was cool . . . not telemark.

    Years later, I tried to recreate the turn with soft leather Narona boots and Bonna 2000s and 3-pins. Then it was cool again as the telemark renaissance emanated from Crested Butte, and telemark gear got heavier and heavier. But years later I got old and feeble enough to want much lighter gear and an easier, stronger technique. Actually, you don’t have to be old and feeble to tour with AT gear.

  15. Jan Silfverskiold November 29th, 2018 5:38 am


    Regarding airbag type helmet protection. Check out this product; “Hovding”. Very popular helmet protection in urban areas in Scandinavia.


  16. Lou Dawson 2 November 29th, 2018 7:13 am

    Mark, agree, the feeling of a well executed, “carvy” ski or snowboard turn is an amazing tactile experience. To imply a telemark turn, or slalom race turn, or steep skiing turn, or even a snowplow is superior is a rather limited worldview (smile). Much more could be said… and as I’ve “said” before, if the turn, any turn, is done well, and makes you happy, then wonderful. Lou

  17. Jim Milstein November 29th, 2018 7:37 am

    So true, Lou! I’d like to put in a word here for the much scorned post holing. Beautifully executed post holing, especially with dogs on narrow trails, doesn’t get properly appreciated.

  18. Phil November 29th, 2018 10:13 am

    Old Joke: How many tele-skiers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One to stand on a chair and turn the bulb and two to stand below saying “nice turns.”

  19. Eric Steig November 29th, 2018 10:27 am

    Just FYI, the hoped for “Al Gore scenario” of ice age Europe hope ain’t gonna happen.

    It was an interesting idea, but even those scientists who once thought it likely no longer think so. Rapid warming and cooling events did happen during the last ice age, but this is in the realm of ultra-ultra-ultra unlikely in the future, for a zillion different reasons.

    Don’t buy a low-altitude ski cabin in Europe (or anywhere, really).

  20. Matt Kinney November 29th, 2018 12:28 pm

    On spot remarks about telemarking and how AT leap-frogged to BC mainstream. And yes, AT has its mouse-trap issues, which is kinda funny considering that was one of the original “preachable” points. Like AT, …an evolution in the telemark binding would increase the numbers. For instance, a telemark binding that allows one to lock down the heel. Enticing AT skiers to try something different is challenging. I’ve also been enamored about how much weight could be saved with a bomb-proof “free-pivot 3-pin” is some of my dreams and etchings. Or a “free-pivot 3-pin with a heel lock-down”. Some of today’s “modern” telemark bindings could be modified to allow a locked heel and thus the freedom to ski both styles.

    But alas, like climate scientists, attaining telemark binding research and development funds is a constant struggle in face of social pressure to follow the norm. Seriously, how many telemarkers work at Black Diamond or DPS or Scott? Back in the day, a few on the staff couldn’t wait to get back to the office and dream up a better telemark system. In many cases they did, then they didn’t.

    Global Warming? Over the past 5 years Valdez has averaged 175″. Previous 40 years it was 305″. Get it while you can.

  21. Jim Milstein November 29th, 2018 12:41 pm

    The kick turns, uphill and down, are turns too. Sometimes they’re admirable.

    The oldest method for slowing down or changing direction is the fall. Some falls are much better than others. An old ski companion spent his first twenty years on skis perfecting the fall. Then he learned to turn.

    I like Lou’s dedication to celebrating all the kinds of turns!

  22. Shane November 29th, 2018 2:40 pm

    To whoever came up with K2 Tele’s old bumper sticker, “If it was easy it would be called snowboarding”. Who’s laughing now?

  23. skier6 November 29th, 2018 2:59 pm

    I am still skiing tele, (since 1976, a winter in the Tetons), at least at the resort. On a locked-in-to-death, NTN binding you don’t have to worry about a pre-release. Carve beautiful ,arcing turns. Ski as fast as you want, just don’t fall. Never had an injury on teles. AT OTOH a few crashes hitting a patch of ice, and instant eject.
    James Baugh wrote, “Will tele make a comeback?
    … without great boot options I don’t see it. ”
    Rumor has it that Scarpa is working on a new, lighter NTN boot, with inserts for these pin tech bindings, like the Lynx. See the Backcountry mag Photo issue.
    So have faith !
    I confess I ski AT now for long tours, to keep up with younger ski partners.
    “Free the heel, make your friends wait”

  24. DavidB November 29th, 2018 3:40 pm

    I know what DPS stands for because I work for them but I’m not telling. Or I could but it would involve three answers.
    Happy trails.

  25. Jim Milstein November 29th, 2018 3:41 pm

    After two weeks on AT gear, I gave away all my tele equipage. The weight, the weight, the weight! Also, it was easier to ski flat and uphill with well-hinged cuffs and frictionless pivots at the toes. For starters, my feet lost four pounds changing to AT. This season the weight loss totals seven pounds and change. Tele boots and bindings are not getting lighter, though in theory they could. A side effect of the change to AT is that I became dangerously bold until “an event” sobered me.

  26. Dostie November 29th, 2018 10:39 pm

    I’ll add a Q. How far does the pinhead tribe have to rise for it to be considered a comeback? 😉

  27. Allan November 30th, 2018 12:06 am

    We the pinhead tribe have always been here. Maybe we’ve been somewhat quiet (not on Dostie’s earnyouturns site). But we’re still here skiing and having fun.

    All well executed turns are good turns. The problem with AT gear (and I own plenty) is you can’t execute all turns but on free heel gear…well…free the heel free the mind!

    I’ll challenge AT skiers to show me a more efficient and enjoyable to use touring system than my TTS touring rig. V6 BC skis and skins, sub 1lb. TTS binding and 2012 F1 boots.

    Function in disaster, finish in style!

  28. Aaron Mattix November 30th, 2018 6:54 am

    I like to start out my season skiing tele gear at the resort while waiting for the backcountry to fill in. Starting with the obnoxiously difficult, and highly rewarding tele turn makes skiing pow on a modern AT setup feel effortless by comparison.

    Tele survives for the same reason singlespeeding does in the mountain biking world: there are a certain core group of people who find the challenge of mastering archaic technology irresistible, and for certain specific locales, it provides a distinct advantage. There are some short routes I’ve been spying near where I groom XC ski trails that are a bit too steep & deep for XC gear, but would underwhelming on my AT gear. Allan’s setup is exactly what I’ve been thinking of such tours, but it hasn’t triggered my N+1 itch quite enough to take action as of yet.

  29. CK1 November 30th, 2018 7:34 am

    Freeheel monoskiing is the most elegant form of glisse, hands down.

  30. Wange November 30th, 2018 8:02 am

    Fun fact about PBR, it’s not Pabst its Coors. Does that make it better or worse?

  31. Jim Milstein November 30th, 2018 8:18 am

    Doesn’t change a thing, Wange. Coors has been largely rice beer for ages. I guess since shortly after WWII.

  32. Jim Milstein November 30th, 2018 8:22 am

    Please post video, CK1! Hard to visualize, but sounds great.

  33. JRD November 30th, 2018 8:39 am

    “north couloir of Torrey’s Peak with NNN BC gear”

    This sounds like quite the story!

  34. Jim Milstein November 30th, 2018 9:09 am

    Yes, children, gather ’round the campfire, and I’ll tell you a tale of Torrey’s. And lightning too!

  35. VtVolk November 30th, 2018 11:18 am

    “Freeheel monoskiing is the most elegant form of glisse, hands down.”

    Anyone else ever try a teleboard? For those not familiar, it is essentialla monoski or really skinny snowboard with two tele bindings mounted almost straight ahead. I demoe one at a telefest once and it was a blast to ride. Probably sucks in the BC though…

  36. CK1 November 30th, 2018 12:26 pm

    BC teleboard! One skin and you kick it along like a skateboard. Actually, while on the topic of ridiculuous set-ups, I recently saw footage of someone skiing Grand Couloir on tele snowlerblades. I think it may be in Be an Waite’s “Telemark Tale” which is worth checking out in it’s own right (You Tube).

  37. Kevin S December 4th, 2018 9:14 am

    I must confess that work kept from your site and it was great to come back to this great article! Three assertions to offer:

    – Al-Gorian” event involving changing ocean currents will occur the next time Al’s private jet, burning 5k gallons of jet fuel per hour without a catalytic converter, lands at a beach location and he falls into the ocean

    – Helmets need to go back to the great leather cycling helmet design of yesterday! Until then, I will suffer the emotional scarring of wearing an ugly helmet on lift served days but not on AT days like the two I have planned for next week!

    – MIPS is a cool acronym and not unlike the ever-evolving (or diminishing) design of shaped and wide or super wide skis, the industry must sell gear. Even if 110 underfoot seems ludicrous for a day of lift served skiing, it still looks cool in some peoples eyes as does the MIPS logo on the back of a POC helmet! But I cannot say I will ever own a 110 or greater ski as I carve or float the blower powder, chunks and chop just fine on my 95 under foot planks…old school is just alright with me! Can we get a nice wool or synthetic cap with a MIPS logo on it?

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