Touring Skis

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Introduction to Touring Skis

At one time choosing skis was a relatively simple affair. They were pretty much straight and had a wood core and skied your own height plus 10 to 20cms. For an average height man that meant a pair of planks around 2 meters long.... well ok about 1m80 if you are French! Randonnée skis would be shorter and you could recognize them because they came with a hole in the tip which nobody seemed to knew the purpose of1.

About a decade ago two things happened that changed everything. Fatboys and Paraboliques. For people who had been skiing since kids going off-piste into deep powder presented little problem, they just adapted their piste technique of weighting, projection and un-weighting and let their superb sense of balance handle the rest. For people spending a couple of weeks a year in the mountains, or for folks who had come late to skiing that dream powder was more of a nightmare. The second their skis dipped below the surface they took on a life of their own, like a couple of U-boats amongst an Atlantic shipping convoy. If the tips weren't getting all crossed up the skis were heading off in different directions. With nasty backward falls or face plants on just about every turn.

The problem was floatation. With the introduction of new techniques and materials, particularly from the aerospace industry some manufactures, notably Völkl with the Snow Ranger that debuted in 1993, saw the solution in increasing the overall width of the ski to give more surface area for a given length. This also enabled a shorter, and therefore more manoeuvrable, ski to be used. The fat ski was born. A bit of a barge on piste the ski enabled even quite moderate skiers to dazzle in deep powder and became a big hit with North American skiers who would often access the backcountry using helicopter, snowcat or snowmobile.

With Europe's more mixed conditions and strong competition roots the emphasis was more on aiding skiers to initiate turns on piste. The same new materials enabled skis to get shorter without losing performance and to develop a much deeper sidecut, the parabolique ski was the ideal tool for carving turns and helped many skiers improve their technique on the cordurouy. In the world of slalom ski lengths dropped from over 200cm to 170cm before regulations stepped in. The extra surface area at the spatula and tail also gave more surface area and that meant more flotation in powder. Not so much as a fatboy but ideal for the mixture of heavier powder and other variables of European snow. Dynastar launched the 4x4, the all terrain ski par excellence, in the late 1990s. It was superb in nearly all conditions except hard-pack and ice where it was too soft to maintain good fore and aft pressure and had a tendency to lose grip.

The somewhat stodgy world of Ski Touring eventually caught up and today there is a wide range of performant skis to suit most tastes. When making day tours over 1000 meters or multiday trips weight is an important factor. A pure touring ski should ideally weigh around 2.5 kg (5.5lbs) with the lightest competition skis tipping the scales at under 2kg (4.5lbs). Manufacturers build touring skis for a certain task and their performance will vary from their piste or freeride cousins. A touring ski should be tough, edges, base and construction, to cope with the varied mountain conditions. It would probably be softer to aid turn initiation in powder snow. Manufacturers will also expect ski tourers to ski with less emphasis on speed.

Over the last couple of years major gains have been made in saving weight, sometimes at the expense of durability. The Dynastar Altitrail Powder weighs 2.8kg a pair for a 178cm ski with 82mm underfoot and the Dynafit Manaslu, in the same length is 2.9kg for a massive 95mm underfoot.

1 The famous randonnée ski hole aids with building a stretcher to take an injured skier off the mountain.

Touring Ski Models



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