Urban Myths of Backcountry Ski Touring

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 27, 2018      

In a comment a long time back, reader “Xer” mentioned that listing a few myths might be fun. Here we go. Not exactly “urban.” Perhaps X-urban is a better term. Please contribute more in the comments and I’ll add them in.

Myth: After an avalanche, the deposition snow immediately hardens like concrete.
Truth: The snow will become denser, but soon after the slide it’s still possible to shovel without needing more umph than current specialized rescue shovels provide. A few days later, yes Virginia, you might need a backhoe.

Myth: “Lighter” skis always ski more poorly than heavier skis.
Truth: Making skis that ski well is about much more than making them heavier, but making light skis ski well can a difficult engineering challenge. And don’t diss plastic, your last commercial jet flight might have been inside a 5.77 meter diameter plastic tube. Be sure to call it “composite” so you’ll feel more comfortable sitting there 30,000 feet above solid ground. Wiki dishes the goods.

Myth: One click on the Dynafit (or any “clicking” classic tech binding) toe lock means “partially” locked.
Truth: The clicks are there only to compensate for variations in binding and boot tolerances, they have nothing to do with release or retention calibration. In fact, by fooling yourself with this, you could mistakenly avoid tuning your binding retention values correctly.

Myth: Helmets have reduced the overall skiing fatality rate.
Truth: No statistical evidence of that. But helmets clearly have reduced severity of head injuries, which is only logical. There are no sensible explanations I can find regarding why the extensive use of helmets has not resulted in obviously lower fatality rates, perhaps because head injury fatalities were never a significant factor (injuries and medical events not involving head blows make up the cause of most fatalities, which occur at the rate of about one per million skier visits, for a variety of reasons of which head injuries is a subset), so mitigating a few fatalities doesn’t have enough statistical power to show in the numbers? Takeaway is that helmets do protect your head more than wearing a ski cap, but they’re not bullet proof. In my view they over promise and under deliver.

Myth: Tech bindings may result in death or disfigurement if used as resort alpine bindings.
Truth: No evidence of that either, though anecdotal accounts of broken legs and accidental releases make us think it’s still unwise to use touring bindings as resort bindings. This issue is of course nuanced by situations such as lift accessed touring — it’s not binary.

Myth: The Haute Route is to European ski touring what The Grenadines are to sailing.
Reality: No, it is not. Dozens of other hut supported ski tour routes in Europe can provide equal or superior experiences.

Myth: Fritz Barthel has moved to Silicon Valley.
Truth: He’s in Seattle, working for Amazon’s ski touring binding division.

Myth: Plum bindings are all metal.
Truth: The heel unit housing is a high density plastic, just as are most other classic tech bindings.

Myth: Ski bases must be covered with “storage” wax during non skiing months.
Truth: Keep them out of the sun, other than that the polyethline used is inert for all practical purposes and certiainly isn’t going to react to the air in your closet. However, if your livelyhood depends on gaining three hundredths of a second in a World Cup downhill course, by all means wax away. Excellent “how it is made” here.

Myth: Marker Kingpin bindings are an alpine binding.
Truth: Sorry, they’re not. Any binding that releases to the side at the heel is by definition not as resistant to accidental release when skied at “normal” retention settings. This simply due to the physics of skiing.

Myth: The word “safety” or “safe” is a DIN/ISO standard, when you see this printed on a binding box it is incredibly meaningful.
—- Anyone know the answer?


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15 Responses to “Urban Myths of Backcountry Ski Touring”

  1. Jim Milstein June 27th, 2018 11:47 am

    Glad to hear about the unimportance of storage wax. I never did that and felt ever so slightly negligent. Here is another storage thing I do: leave skins on skis. This has worked well with the Contour Hybrid glue and may or may not be okay with more aggressive glues. Skins on skis saves space and means I can find the skins first try.

    About helmets: I sneer at death, but close encounters of the arboreal kind worry me. Helmet and goggle [do you really need a plural here?] protect the head well from trees with sharp sticks protruding. Consumer grade Kevlar© body armor is good enough for the rest. Kidding! Get the all-black tactical stuff.

  2. atfred June 27th, 2018 1:24 pm

    Wait, Fritz works for Amazon?! Seriously? When did Amazon acquire a ski touring binding division?

    Or is this a joke? (No, not April 1)

  3. Lou Dawson 2 June 27th, 2018 3:03 pm

    Testing reader comprehension (smile).

  4. Jim Milstein June 27th, 2018 3:38 pm

    And I believed you, Lou. It’s only fair, I guess, considering, . . . but shouldn’t you leave the trolling to anonymous four hundred pound skiers who live in their parents’ basements?

  5. Jim Milstein June 27th, 2018 4:06 pm

    But wait! Just because it’s preposterous doesn’t mean it couldn’t be true. No market is too small to figure in Amazon’s scheme for world domination.

    Seasoned researcher that I am, I will backorder an AmazonBasics Backcountry Ski Touring package and will report back with the expected shipping date. The big question is whether Amazon will merely rebrand or generate new content. If they go for new, Fritz is a good choice, but can they afford him?

  6. slcpunk June 28th, 2018 10:44 am

    When you say this:

    Myth: Ski bases must be covered with “storage” wax during non skiing months.
    Truth: Keep them out of the sun,

    Do you literally mean the sun light, or are you talking about heat? My shed gets quite hot in the summer ( lets say roughly topping out at 110F ) …. and that’s where the skis live. Always wondered if that was bad or not.

    I’ve been doing it for years and can’t say I’ve noticed any issue for what its worth.

  7. Pavel Sova June 28th, 2018 10:57 am

    Haha funny about Amazon. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon jumped into the BC skiing business given the number of Amazonites one sees these days running all over Cascades summer or winter (nothing against that). Although that’s not exactly their line of business.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 June 28th, 2018 2:36 pm

    SLC, in my opinion heat can be an issue, but I doubt 110 degrees is a problem, though above that, I’d begin to be concerned, for example storing in a hot attic. What you really have to be careful of is your climbing skins, it’s no joke when they say store them in a cool, dark place with storage sheets. I’d say rule of thumb is if the heat is melting your storage wax, better find a different spot (smile). Lou

  9. Lou Dawson 2 June 28th, 2018 2:36 pm

    Pavel, can you tell we’re visiting Seattle area? (smile). Lou

  10. Pavel Sova June 28th, 2018 4:21 pm

    Fun! Plenty of snow still left in Cascades (although it’s a bit sticky with pollen this year).

  11. XXX_er June 28th, 2018 6:52 pm

    the serious xc ski racers will wax up their skis and put them in a hotbox which is a coffin shaped tinfoil lined wooden box using light bulbs for heat ( also for heating up pizza) so I don’t think a hot garage will hurt skis

    best place for skins is the freezer

  12. See June 28th, 2018 6:57 pm

    I don’t know about “storage” wax, but I have observed that friends who wax their skis frequently have better glide than I do, even if I have waxed fairly recently. My guess is that this has something to do with frequent waxing saturating the bases, but I’d be interested in hearing from the wax experts. Also, that 110 degree shed combined with a coat of storage wax could be the ultimate hot box— a well known go fast treatment (or maybe not).

  13. stephen June 29th, 2018 5:39 am

    Be careful about storing skis in hot places long term. I’ve had no problems with skis kept in the house, but a couple kept out in the garage over summer have had the bases or topsheets become detached.

    Re hotboxing: This is only generally done with high-end XC skis; low-end skis are often much less durable. And it’s only for a few hours, not several months.

  14. Mike July 1st, 2018 1:11 pm

    Most of the remarks above about myths are myths!


  15. Jasper July 3rd, 2018 5:41 pm

    Myth: Stiffer equipment means better performance.
    Truth: Your style dictates performance.

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