Nosskidamus Predicts the 2017 Ski Touring Future


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 2, 2017      
Here is how X-Alp will appear in retail, nicely accented, with unassuming branding.

Both Atomic and Salomon are all-in with full human powered ski touring, their Procline-X-Alp form factor proves it. Click images to enlarge.

1. With seemingly endless improvements in the “one kilo” class boots designed for ski touring, it’s obvious that despite industry hope that “freeride!” touring would open up a population of new customers, roots are roots. Witness, after years of attempting to define their idea of consumer segments, Dynafit is innovating (and branding) with a totally new “fitness” category (referring to activities such as uphilling at resorts). Or consider Salomon, La Sportiva and others who are clearly going after this segment of the market. More about that as the trade show season progresses.

Trend: Narrower skis are back in style for human powered skiing, what with planks such as Volkl VTA 88 Lite being so fine.

2. Is the era of ski writer “fams” coming to an end? Not sure about that, as I just returned from a nice Salomon press event held here in Colorado.

But, hear that noise? Is that the fabric of the universe tearing? We’ve based much of our content here at WildSnow.com on nearly a decade of European ski touring trips, usually layered on top of the annual Dynafit press event held at various classic ski touring venues in the Alps (and last winter in Greece). This time, Dynafit scheduled and then canceled their 2017 press event. Ostensibly because they wanted to introduce their new fitness category (see above) and lacked product samples, but I suspect there may have been other reasons.

Presently, I’m still planning on my annual trip to the old country, but I’ll have to arrange my own industry visits. I’ll hit ISPO of course, and perhaps take that nice train ride again to the Val di Fiemme and La Sportiva. Dropping in to see Dynafit near Munich is probably a given as well. Stay tuned.

3. Ebikes. Yes, ebikes. In many of North America’s mountain areas mechanized access using automobiles or God forbid snowmobiles is considered the ultimate sin, while if you have the time or fitness for extra walking (or money for a horse), you are allowed in. Don’t get me wrong, I like that we’ve got legal Wilderness, but in my opinion much of our non-Wilderness public land is unfairly difficult to reach. Closed yet navigable roads are one of the worst offenders. Perhaps the solution is the electric bicycle.

Pedal assist “pedelec” type are not motorcycles, they’re a hybrid transportation machine in a class of their own. In my opinion, pedelecs are the perfect way to handle gated roads and other products resulting from the “lock out that pesky public” ‘tude we’ve been battling for years. So, my predication? Ebikes will become ubiquitous, more so as grocery getters, but as tools of alpine recreation as well.

Now, before you get your Capilene bikini briefs in a bunch, I’m 100% onboard with ebikes requiring care so their use doesn’t piss off land managers to the point of interfering with the stupendous build-out of mountain bike trails we’ve seen in the past few decades. That said, we’d like to see a few of such trails where pedelec ebikes are legal; I predict that’ll happen.

Check out this excellent ebike article.

4. Avalanche airbag backpacks beg for prognostication. Despite my being lectured literally dozens of times that “weight doesn’t matter so much to consumers when it comes to safety gear” I predict that winners of the balloon pack weight games will rule the market. At this time, that’s clearly Mammut with their re-worked plumbing paired with carbon cartridge. Look for this to continue. Areas still to be improved? Balloons made with lighter fabrics, 30 or more liter backpacks with minimalist design philosophy (roll top and no zipper, anyone?). Oh, and about those electric fan packs we’ve been so excited about? I’m embarrassed to say that my unbridled enthusiasm seems to be diminished. I could probably make a balloon pack myself that wasn’t any heavier than the commercial electronics, using a Bosch cordless vacuum wired to a toggle switch on my pack strap.

5. So, out of the “big three” boots, bindings, skis we talked about boots above. Obviously, in the world of ski touring bindings two major things are happening.

Firstly, engineers have figured out ways to combine “alpine like” vertical heel elastic travel with the use of what are now the defacto standard “tech” fittings built into so many boot models we lost count years ago. Examples, see Marker and Fritschi.

Of equal importance in the binding arena, the ultra-minimalist tech binding design invented by Fritz Barthel is not going away — only being incrementally improved. Good examples are the Atomic-Salomon Backland-MTN offering, Dynafit Superlite 2.0. and of course the ATK jewelry that Giovani comes up with every year. These types of bindings have been shown by engineers to lack safety release at certain angles, and may have problems with accidental release when used at “normal” release tension settings, nonetheless literally millions of happy ski tourers have proved that they work. Key is experimenting with how the binding is set up, as well as pairing your equipment configuration to your ski style. The future will bring the simplicity of the original Barthel binding paired with better safety and retention performance.

Kurt, at our local haunt a few days ago.

Kurt, doing that venerable Norwegian maneuver at our local haunt a few days ago.

6. Telemark skiing will not die. What’s different, however, is the days are over when industry propaganda and media hacks did a pretty good job of convincing nearly every North American backcountry skier that they had to telemark in order to ski tour — even if they had to endure linked falls instead of linked turns.

Now, telemark skiing has become what I always thought it should be: A fun way of turning a ski for talented athletes who want to do it that way, and do it well (was just out with a couple of good tele skiers several days ago, as a matter of fact). Thus, I predict that telemark bindings will not go away, but sadly, that getting decent telemark ski touring boots will become ever more difficult. Reason, telemark bindings are fairly easy and less costly to manufacture compared to injection molded ski footwear. Bindings are also easier to warranty support; you just keep a few bins of parts kicking around. Boots, if the plastic cracks or something equally as hideous, you’re sending out whole new pairs and chipping the rejects. Hard to make that financially viable in what’s obviously a small market.

7. Heated footwear will come into its own this coming year, what with lighter less bulky batteries and better control systems. Look for systems that don’t involve failure prone wires and are controlled wirelessly using a dedicated fob or your smartphone. Like this. I have to wonder if instead of the common design philosophy involving heated insoles, a well made heated sock might be a better option? These guys are an example. We should probably ramp up our blogging about this stuff, as both Lisa and I could stand to use these products.

8. I just heard from an iPhone 7 user (and WildSnow reader) who tells me that Apple is now providing a screen that’s much easier to read in bright light, along with a battery that actually lasts. Prediction, look for an upsurge in the already popular but sometimes difficult pairing of GPS app with smartphone hardware. Also, as with most mainstream smartphones you can already get auxiliary batteries for the 7, which will pretty much eliminate capacity issues for extended backcountry use. Example here. Me, I’m still using my cheapo (bought used) Samsung Galaxy Note 3 with a huge aftermarket battery. It works great — other than the screen not being good outdoors. Perhaps it’s finally time for an iPhone?

9. On the clothing front, look for wool to continue as a magic ingredient. Water resistant down as well. A trend will be (or has been for some time) the use of ultra-light shells such as Strafe Scout jacket, combined with a down puffy, fleece hoody and wool baselayers. Super versatile, though you’d want to switch shells to something more bullet proof (and insulation to Primaloft) if you’re on lengthy tours in full wet conditions.

10. Lastly, climate change, relating to batteries, and batteries relating to backcountry skiing…

It’s been annoying to read media hypsters stating things such as “solar now cheaper than coal!” Apparently, ignorant “reporters” for some reason have jumped on this fake news like a bunch of seagulls on chum. Fact is, when figuring the true cost of solar you have to include the cost of storage — a much more complicated equation. For example, our tiny house WildSnow Field HQ has a nice PV system — but to be practical we need at least $1,000 worth of batteries that’ll last at the most for ~6 years and much less if they’re aggressively used (they wear out fast if drained down regularly). Utility scale storage is cheaper, but not exactly inexpensive.

So, my optimistic predictions regarding PV are twofold. First, I’d expect at some time in the next 12 months a more cost effective battery technology will be industrialized (the science is already there). Even a 20% reduction in total cost would be a huge deal. Second, it seems to me that wind power makes a lot of sense and we’ll see much more of it — thus perhaps slowing down global warming. (Though as we’ve stated many times, it’s our belief that the only way GW will be significantly changed is by climate engineering — expect to see debate about that in coming months.)

Swinging back to ski touring, significantly lighter batteries for a given energy density will change everything from how big your headlamp is, to making the electronic airbag packs weight competitive. That’ll be fun. But will they be any less expensive per kilowatt-hour?



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Comments

22 Responses to “Nosskidamus Predicts the 2017 Ski Touring Future”

  1. Tyler Lindsay January 2nd, 2017 2:59 pm

    I built an electric fatbike last fall for winter commuting and as a hippie snowmobile for touring access up Independence Pass. I’m roughly 1000 miles into using it, and aside from thrashing the drivetrain semi-regularly (both user error and wearing parts out quickly) it’s far exceeded expectations in terms of fun, practicality, and climate resilience.

    It’s kept my wife and I from even considering purchasing a second car, and extended the life of our old Tacoma by about a decade, as most days it sits quietly in the driveway. I get the pastoralist opposition to the Ebike, but the physics are hard to argue with. Using 50 pounds of plastic and metal to move around my 150 pounds of meat beats using 4000 pounds of plastic and metal any day. For trips of less than 10 miles each way, it’s an obvious choice.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 January 2nd, 2017 3:13 pm

    Tyler, my take exactly, and the Indy road is perfect example. In fact, law of unintended consequences in that if they’d put an upper gate where it should really be (Lincoln Creek, like in the 1960s) there would be much less need for alternative transportation of any sort. Now, it’s going to become an ATV and ebike corridor! Lou

  3. Lou Dawson 2 January 2nd, 2017 3:22 pm

    Hey Tyler, guest blog DIY?

  4. Dan January 2nd, 2017 4:07 pm

    Weight is definitely a factor in the airbag game, but for me there are others too – I’m still using my Saga 40 because the vast majority of times I’ll be using such a pack mean that I’ll be flying OS. The battery pack is a clear winner here, and I can live with a 1.2kg weight penalty compared to the Mammut.

  5. See January 2nd, 2017 8:15 pm

    I’m all for e bikes as car alternatives, but I think they should be restricted on trails with a lot of human powered users. This is the relevant population, not “land managers” (imo).

  6. See January 2nd, 2017 8:20 pm

    Unless the powered bikes are causing serious erosion problems or other environmental destruction.

  7. Rick January 2nd, 2017 8:39 pm

    See,
    I whole heartedly agree on both counts ..

  8. Jernej January 3rd, 2017 12:42 am

    Heated footwear? I’d much prefer ski boots chilled and ventilated.

  9. Aaron Mattix January 3rd, 2017 6:21 am

    Tyler – hasn’t received much coverage, but SRAM came out with a component group designed specifically for e-bikes: https://www.sram.com/sram/mountain/family/ex1. Main design points are that is built burlier to handle the additional torque generated by electric assist motors, and has bigger steps between the 8 cogs on the rear cassette. I’m actually interested in this for my next pedal-powered bike build; I’d be glad to push around a few more grams for extended durability, take advantage of more pronounced gaps between gears.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 January 3rd, 2017 7:13 am

    Years ago, I used to build my own mountain bikes on purchased frame sets. Built my own wheels, etc. I feel another build coming on, this time as an ebike, summer WildSnow blog post series. Perhaps Aaron will consult. I’d like to do something that worked both for jeep trails and as a townie. Perhaps starting with an existing stock pedelic for the motor and battery mount, but doing a bunch of mods and upgrades. Lou

  11. See January 3rd, 2017 8:26 am

    Check out the dark side, Lou– mid drive throttle bike. You don’t have to twist the grip if you don’t want to…

  12. Jim Pace January 3rd, 2017 8:42 am

    Check out the new Powerwall II that Mr Musk has released. 14KWH of storage, built in sine wave inverter, all for the cost of a decent generator ($5500). Lots less than for the huge bank of 2 volt batteries and connection gear it replaces.

  13. Tyler Lindsay January 3rd, 2017 10:55 am

    Hey Lou,

    I’d be happy to do a guest post on building a DIY electric fat bike, including why I think for ski tour access one is better off going that way than buying an ebike off the shelf. That said, I’d also encourage interested wildsnow readers to spend some time on Karl Gesslein’s ElectricBike-Blog dot com. He’s built and broken somewhere north of 20 homebrew e-bikes and is well acquainted with all the US distributors of the mostly chinese mid drive motors, as well as the legal landscape surrounding these bikes, which are mostly illegal.

    Aaron, I hadn’t seen that drivetrain, but it looks pretty compelling for a next build. So far I’ve just used cheap shimano 9 speed stuff, which actually holds up fairly well until you wrap a bungee cord several times around the cassette.

  14. Herf January 3rd, 2017 12:19 pm

    I have two e-bikes. First built one about eight years ago. Added a hub motor to the rear wheel with a battery mounted on the rear rack of the cruiser style bike. It goes over 35 mph, but struggles up hills. Also have a stock, mid-drive total pedal assist. This works great on hills, pulling loads, carrying groceries, shuttles, and having a comfortable commute.

    E-bikes are great. I understand most of the concerns, and I don’t ride them on ‘normal’ mtn. bike trails or faster than the traffic on paths. Never need to drive within the city. Also have at least six other bikes without motors for most other enjoyment.

    Another great site is electricbikereview dot com.

  15. Jason Killgore January 3rd, 2017 2:44 pm

    Re: Dan’s statement on the Saga 40 vs a mammut,
    The weight savings between the saga 40 and a mammut UL w/ carbon is closer to 2 kg so >2.3x the base weight (closer to 2x with an Al canister). The UL is a phenomenal ski pack. Will make for a rare day when I dont travel with an airbag.

  16. Lou Dawson 2 January 3rd, 2017 5:44 pm

    Jason, ditto, the Mammut UL with Carbon is my go-to. Using it nearly every backcountry day, other than when I’m horribly forced to test other packs (smile). Lou

  17. Dan January 4th, 2017 12:52 am

    I guess I thought I was comparing the 30L Mammut with the Saga – even Lou says the 20L is on the small side.

    For the record, what is the lightest configuration for the Mammut Light (30L version)?

    I’m eyeing off a Mammut 30L at some point, but still think the Saga has it’s advantages – multiple deployments if based out of a hut, travel-friendly and easy to practice with. I’m more ok with adding a kilo or two to my back than I am with a kilo on my feet!

  18. BenL January 4th, 2017 4:27 am

    Lou, have you seen the Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag? Looks very simple, weight listed at 1860g without cartridge, carbon one 310g, ISPO gold winner in ’16.

  19. Frame January 4th, 2017 5:24 am

    Lou, re the fam trips, looks like you should forget Europe for January and hit up California, make hay while the sun shines, or dig yourself out of something deep might be more appropriate.

    Give us Euro readers some more skiing powder on the West Coast culture and trip reports. Not that Colorado is missing out.

    Snow in Europe should start arriving today (fingers crossed), but looks like Mammoth is getting more in a day then we’ve had all season!

    Or Turkey could be the answer to skiing in the old world.

  20. Lou2 January 4th, 2017 6:49 am

    Hi Frame, yeah, plan is to head over to your side of the lake in February, should be some snow by then?

    Here in central Colorado on Western Slope we are having a wonderful ski touring season in many locations. I’ve been out quite a bit, skiing excellent pow.

    Am working on some new location trip reports both from myself and guest bloggers, and perhaps some content from our usual haunts around WildSnow Field HQ.

    Lou

  21. Lou Dawson 2 January 4th, 2017 7:00 am

    Hi Ben, sure, I checked that out at ISPO last winter.

    https://www.wildsnow.com/19416/ispo-ski-touring-gear-2016/

    I liked the feel and look of the Mammut stuff, so I pursued doing actual use reviews.

    Will probably hit Ortovox eventually but I’m actually a bit sidetracked by more airbag mod experiments, as well as getting done with checking out the Arva pack we have here.

    Lou

  22. alfinator January 12th, 2017 1:57 pm

    About the ebikes, a friend of mine who signed up for the beta program a couple of years ago, and finally received a production (I think) version of the Copenhagen Wheel: https://superpedestrian.com. Everything is built into the wheel so you can put it on an existing bike, adding something like 12-15 lbs. I only briefly tried it out one day but was impressed! It senses when to apply power (you still have to pedal), has a few power modes like eco, standard, turbo for level of assist. Extremely seamless. I think it has some hybrid tech in it too if you pedal backwards going down a hill. Don’t remember details on range. Can connect your phone to it to check on stats, like bike vs human output, etc. Maybe you can get a demo wheel 🙂





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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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