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Advice on getting started

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

I'm pretty new to the backcountry side of things and I wanted to get some advice on getting setup/started. I live in Philly so its not always easy to get to the good stuff but well worth the drive.

I finally got a pair of Fritschi Freeride Bindings but thats really the only AT specific piece of equipment that I have right now, other than a shovel and pack. I guess my question is two-fold.

1. What should I do with the bindings? I dont have the cash to spring for new skis right now so my options are either put them on my everyday ski (Nordica Hot Rod Top Fuels), or throw them on a pair of 04 Solomons that Ive been using as rock skis. I would like to get a feel for the bindings before I think about a touring ski, but id also like to get into the backcountry as soon as possible. My only backcountry experience has been the hourglass at Stowe and a random peak outside Crested Butte.

2. What should my priorities be? I realize I need a beacon/probe and a course or two on how to use them, should this be the next thing I look at? And then skins? I'd like to get away with using my current boots (Lange Banshee Pros), they're good for hiking and i wont be sacrificing any performance value.

Thanks in advance, really any advice at all would be appreciated even if its not specific to my questions. Love this forum and its already been a big help.

post #2 of 24
 Avy class so you know what you are getting yourself into.  
Skins are sized to your skis so be sure you know what you are going to use for a couple seasons. Sales start soon so decide what tranceiver you want.
A partner you trust with your life and enjoy skiing with. Preferably one who has some experience as there are lots of little tricks it's nice to learn the easy way.
Acceptance there are times you will not ski the line you spent hours/day hiking too, due to Avy danger.
post #3 of 24
Hey Contra, I'm just getting into a bit of touring myself, and I don't live too far away, down in DE.

I haven't yet taken an Avy Level 1, but I'm reading Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain (excellent book). I've been out a little bit with a guide, but I need to get some practice with a beacon (just got my tracker today).

If you get a beeper, maybe we can get up for some practice. If you head somewhere for a level 1, let me know.

As for your questions, I'm not as expert as others, but if you're comfortable with the skis, any will work with your freerides, I wouldn't make them my primary set up. They don't ski bad, but you'll notice the lift and they're not super secure. Keep them on a pair you want for touring. You can always take them off of your rock skis if you get something you want touring bindings on.

I'd get a beacon if you're going to be out anywhere that even has the possibility of sliding. You won't find a good, knowledgable partner who's willing to head out of bounds with you if you don't have them. As I mentioned, if you get one and want to get some practice in, we can meet up somewhere.

Touring bindings will be worthless w/o skins. who cares if your heel lifts if you can't go anywhere. :)

You can get away with the boots as long as they don't destroy your feet.
Edited by Aleph Null - 1/22/10 at 11:19am
post #4 of 24
Thread Starter 
Hey thanks for the advice guys, good stuff. Aleph I'd definitely be down for meeting up once i get a beacon. Not sure when that will be, hopefully sooner rather than later. I'll probably wait until then to take a course too but I'll let you know one way or another.

I guess I'm torn on whether to bother getting skins now (since they're sized) or wait until i get a decent pair of skis. My solomons arent terrible but i never really felt comfortable on them. Love my nordicas but like I said thats my everyday ski.

Where did you learn to skin? It sounds like theres more to it than I thought. I'd like to take a trip up to the adirondacks and get some work in at least, I think there are some trails with no slide danger where I could get away without a beacon for now.
post #5 of 24
I am not that far ahead of you in BC skiing. I don't have a beacon or avalanche training.  I have Fritschi Freerides mounted on some Sollie Guns.  I  plan to move them to a slightly  narrower ski,  around 90mm and keep my skis light and maneuverable. There is absolutely plenty of BC here in the east with virtually no avalanche danger. I started out skinning up Mt Greylock in MA and skiing the old Thunderbolt Trail.  It was a great way to get used to skinning and a fun run down.  Have since done trips in VT.  I would like to ski Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks sometime.  I also plan to get avalanche training and a beacon but don't feel that I really need that for what I'm doing at this point.
post #6 of 24
I got hooked on back country skiing at the end of last year myself and needed to get in cheap so let share my experience and offer some tips.  Alpine touring is 80% walking and 20% skiing. Visit all the Alpine touring forums (T4T, TGR, TAY) and search the net learning about what boots will fit you best. It's hard to find stores to try them on here.  I got Scarpa Lasers on creigslist for $100 and there are still a lot of those for sale. They were too full for me but with a 3/8" midsole from a shoe repar shop and some extra pads they got me started. Ended up with Megarides that I got used right here and I'll get new liners next year.  I see a lot of "All mountain" skis from the 1990's for $30 on creigslist that will work fine in the east. 90-75-80 or so. I started with 185 2002 Shuksans I got for $80. Ran into a sale last month for 174cm new ones at $99. You DO need skins and gearx.com has blems for sale now. Regular ski poles work fine. 95% of what you can ski in the east has no avy danger so stick to those places to learn and save for a beacon/shovel/probe. Buy and read "Backcountry Skiing" by Martin Volken and you will learn all of the basics. Get out and Have fun.
post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Contra21 View Post

Where did you learn to skin? It sounds like theres more to it than I thought. 

Here's a handy primer:
http://straightchuter.com/tag/skinning/
http://straightchuter.com/tag/skins/

The author is a bit of a hard charger, but the technique info in those pages is useful for all bc skiers.  

Avy class, of course, and skins.  But I'd say that if you aren't comfortable on the Solomons wait until you get some skis that are comfortable.  You don't want to be struggling with your skis in the bc.  You can keep an eye on the TGR and Telemarktips gear forums.  
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wooley12 View Post

I got hooked on back country skiing at the end of last year myself and needed to get in cheap so let share my experience and offer some tips.  Alpine touring is 80% walking and 20% skiing. Visit all the Alpine touring forums (T4T, TGR, TAY) and search the net learning about what boots will fit you best. It's hard to find stores to try them on here.  I got Scarpa Lasers on creigslist for $100 and there are still a lot of those for sale. They were too full for me but with a 3/8" midsole from a shoe repar shop and some extra pads they got me started. Ended up with Megarides that I got used right here and I'll get new liners next year.  I see a lot of "All mountain" skis from the 1990's for $30 on creigslist that will work fine in the east. 90-75-80 or so. I started with 185 2002 Shuksans I got for $80. Ran into a sale last month for 174cm new ones at $99. You DO need skins and gearx.com has blems for sale now. Regular ski poles work fine. 95% of what you can ski in the east has no avy danger so stick to those places to learn and save for a beacon/shovel/probe. Buy and read "Backcountry Skiing" by Martin Volken and you will learn all of the basics. Get out and Have fun.

 

This is really helpful stuff, thanks a ton. I know time for tuckermans but what are the other two forums? 


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Lee View Post




Here's a handy primer:
http://straightchuter.com/tag/skinning/
http://straightchuter.com/tag/skins/

The author is a bit of a hard charger, but the technique info in those pages is useful for all bc skiers.  

Avy class, of course, and skins.  But I'd say that if you aren't comfortable on the Solomons wait until you get some skis that are comfortable.  You don't want to be struggling with your skis in the bc.  You can keep an eye on the TGR and Telemarktips gear forums.  

 

I guess comforable was the wrong word, rather Ive just never been thrilled with them from a performance standpoint but I think they'd be okay for touring. Sounds like skins are my next pickup. That website is great, thanks for the tip.
post #9 of 24
A touring binding is pretty much worthless without skins. You'll end up carrying your skis either way, so the only thing you save is a bit of weight.

You haven't really said where you're going to be skiing...obviously that will make a difference. If you're talking about mild bc in the east coast, your needs will be different than if you're going to climbing 14ers. Not to mention what seasons you'll be skiing.
post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by iWill View Post

A touring binding is pretty much worthless without skins. You'll end up carrying your skis either way, so the only thing you save is a bit of weight.

You haven't really said where you're going to be skiing...obviously that will make a difference. If you're talking about mild bc in the east coast, your needs will be different than if you're going to climbing 14ers. Not to mention what seasons you'll be skiing.


 

Well I live in Philadelphia so I'm kind of limited to mild east coast stuff for the most part. I spend a lot of time in the trees at Stowe or Jay but I dont really know much about the rest of the state or the adirondacks when it comes to the bc. Ive read a little and I know there are a ton of great spots but havent really dug into it yet. Obviously the closer to Philly the better it is for me, but I'd be up for anything in that area, VT/NH/ME/NY. I'd like to do some challenging stuff once I get my feet wet, I'm just not sure what that is.

I knew I would have to get skins, I just wanted to see if I needed avy gear first but it sounds like I can get away without it while I'm getting started.
post #11 of 24
Ok... I haven't been getting out in the BC as often as I like these days (read not at all this year or last... kids... nuff said) so ignore this if you like, but I have to say it:

Get your avvy and safety gear first, then skins and other "access" gear.
If you can't get there safe, you shouldn't worry about getting there at all.
Your quote "I can get away without it" is a wrong approach... if you get into this doing whatever you think you can "get away with" you will pull it off for a while, but you will get burned or get someone else burned.

At the end of the day, you will do whatever you want.  And I would defend your right to do it.  But if you want to do it right, don't do it without the safety gear. 
post #12 of 24
Certainly, if you can afford to spend $1000 on avy gear and an avy 1 course to learn how to use it, you should do that. But, you can also be safe here in the east by studying about avalanche terrain and how to avoid the dangers with route selection and snow sense. Learn to know where and when NOT to go until you're prepared. Too many people think a beacon will save them and don't think about safe travel routes.  I plan to go to Tuckermans without avy gear next week but just to look around at first. Not up above the head wall. Maybe not at all if conditions are not solid.  I would climb Marcy without a beacon it on some routes. Read "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" by Bruce Tremper and look online. I practice skinning and get to know my gear here in central New York where there hasn't been an avalanche since the Ice Age. I've also had the chance to tour in the Washington Cascades a few times and would not do much there without an experienced person to guide. That said, I'll probably do some solo touring/practice by skinning up Summit at Snoqualmie East (Hyak) and skin over to Central without a beacon if the avy conditions are low on the scale and my guide approves.

Some other forums and links:
Lots of info, good and bad, but you seem smart enough to figure who's who.
http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/index.php

Lots of links here:
http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=79349

Mostly Cascades but look around and learn
http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php

Have fun, be smart, and go for it.
post #13 of 24
BTW, while I'm at Snoqualmie, I will be borrowing a beacon and getting a chance to use it in the beacon practice park that they have there. I'm not anti beacon, just a realist.
post #14 of 24
Check out the forums at telemarktips.com.  Lots of folks there on AT gear, quite a few of them from the east coast.  There are regional threads every year with info from all around the country.  The east coast thread has a subheading this year - 'define "powder"'.  Last year's was good too - 'it ain't ice if there aren't fish underneath.'

If you're going to get serious about skiing in the backcountry you're going to need knowledge as well as experience.  You won't get either without a decent partner, and you won't get one of those unless you're willing to take responsibility for his life and yours.  Get the avy gear and training.  I'd never go out with somebody unwilling to take responsibility for managing a crisis, just as my partners know I'm quite capable of holding up my end of the deal.

Get yourself an inclinometer, and commit to staying >30-degree snow until you get some good knowledge/experience vis-a-vis routefinding.  Don't consider it a death sentence - consider it a life sentence.  ;)  Besides, when the powder's good you can have a blast on lower angle terrain.

You already have and are reading Tremper's avy book.  Excellent place to start.  Also go to www.avalanche.org for information from nearby avalanche forecasting centers.  Spend some time there clicking around the links.  Lots and lots and lots of good info there, as well as demonstrations of snow stability tests, ideas for routefinding, etc.  I check it every morning before I go out, even though we don't have a local forecasting center.  I can extrapolate from forecasting centers in the region to help understand what's going on here.

Good book on getting around in the backcountry:



Excellent info on just about all aspects of backcountry life, presented in an easy-to-comprehend way.
post #15 of 24
I'm certainly not going to advise anyone not to get safety gear and learn to use it; that said, there aren't that many places in the NE where it's really essential. I know we did a lot of tree skiing in the old days back there in places that weren't avi-prone.

AS far as skis go, I'd probably look at mounting those bindings on something you don't mind getting trashed. The NE doesn't have the benefit of consistent 100" snowpacks. One of the benefits of skinning is the ability to extend the length of the season as well as the breadth of it.
post #16 of 24
I've not skied back east so I have zero understanding of the terrain and snow characteristics.  The bottom line is, though, that you need to understand what avalanche terrain looks like and what scary snowpacks look like before venturing out.  The inclinometer I suggested upthread will help in that regard, as will an understanding of how to estimate slope angles by looking at a topographic map.

And it's not just avy terrain - what kind of first aid skills does your partner have?  Is he/she pretty competent and level-headed?  Will he/she know what to do and how to get you out if you have a serious injury?  Will YOU know what to do and how to get him out if your partner has a serious injury?  You don't have to be in steep terrain to encounter those kinds of issues - they call them accidents for a reason.  I'm not saying that you have to have an OEC cert to venture into the backcountry.  I AM saying that you and any potential partners needs to be capable of accepting responsibility if bad things come to pass.  This is no different, IMHO, than any kind of wilderness travel, no matter what the season.

For a newbie, it seems to me that the key to finding good backcountry ski partners is to make yourself a good backcountry ski partner.

FYI, here's today's avy forecast from the Mt. Washington avalanche center:


Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines have HIGH avalanche danger today. Natural and human triggered avalanches are likely. Unstable slabs are likely on a variety of slope aspects and angles. Travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended. The only exception to this rating is the Little Headwall in Tuckerman which has Considerable avalanche danger. Natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are probable. The Little Headwall is undermined and will probably become an open brook by the end of today.

I've been hunting for a silver lining to perk up today's advisory and the only thing I came up with is that it will be over by tomorrow. There is plenty of rain in the forecast and it will creep all the way up to the higher summits. We can expect 1-2" (2.5 to 5 cm) of rain today with increasing winds that may be gusting to 100 mph (161 kph) on the Summit by late in the day. I think today's weather will cause a decent avalanche cycle on the mountain. The rain will be falling on cold wind slabs that are sitting on an icy crust. Most of the wind slab in the Ravines formed last Thursday which marks our last avalanche cycle. Winds on Thursday decreased rapidly which brought the avalanche cycle to an abrupt end. Wind slabs left over from this event are variable in depth, size and density and they can be found in just about every forecast area. We had been feeling comfortable with the stability of these slabs but today's weather changes this dramatically. As rain falls through the day it will be adding load to wind slabs while breaking down bonds in the snow grains that makes them strong. As this happens the tensile strength of the slabs will decrease and water will eventually percolate down to the icy crust. When it hits this I think it will begin traveling down hill under the wind slabs which will deteriorate the bonds they have developed with the ice crust. The result will likely be a bunch of avalanche activity. There are wind slabs that are older than the ones described above, especially in the Lip and Sluice. Today's forecasted rain amounts could result in avalanches stepping down into these older slabs. If this happens we could have some big runners. If the pouring rain hadn't stopped you from venturing into the Ravines today, hopefully the likelihood of avalanche activity will.

post #17 of 24
Typical Eastern back country



Just wanted you westerners to see what 99% of our "back country" is like. < 30 degrees and full of trees. Gee, even the black diamond at the local hill is only 22 degrees. Measured it when I was practicing skinning up it last week. I was just as surprised at seeing the Cascades for the first time and wondered where the foothills were. Different planet.  If I was getting into sailing, I wouldn't wait to rig the boat with radar to sail around the bay, but I wouldn't head out into the ocean without it. Your advice about avy gear is right on for the geology that you live in but here it's overkill for anyone that can think even a little. Tuckermans is so talked about because it's a little bit of the west here in the east. Avy's do happen and right now the time is prime. Saw the avy report earlier today. In a couple of days everything will set up and danger will go way down. And, unlike the west as I've seen it, you can creep up on the mountains here and stay out of any avy danger. I'ts a 3 hour skin in to the bowl through the woods. Will I do that? Sure. Would I go higher? Not without the gear and the knowledge how to use it.


Edited by wooley12 - 1/26/10 at 7:02pm
post #18 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by mountaingirl1961 View Post

Good book on getting around in the backcountry:



Excellent info on just about all aspects of backcountry life, presented in an easy-to-comprehend way.
 

Oh man, I'm can't believe I forgot about that book until now.  It's gold.  Good call mg1961, very good call.  
post #19 of 24
Fair enough, Wooley, and it still looks like fun to me.  
post #20 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by wooley12 View Post

Typical Eastern back country



Just wanted you westerners what 99% of our "back country" is like. < 30 degrees and full of trees. Gee, even the black diamond at the local hill is only 22 degrees. Measured it when I was practicing skinning up it last week. I was just as surprised at seeing the Cascades for the first time and wondered where the foothills were. Different planet.  If I was getting into sailing, I wouldn't wait to rig the boat with radar to sail around the bay, but I wouldn't head out into the ocean without it. Your advice about avy gear is right on for the geology that you live in but here it's overkill for anyone that can think even a little. Tuckermans is so talked about because it's a little bit of the west here in the east. Avy's do happen and right now the time is prime. Saw the avy report earlier today. In a couple of days everything will set up and danger will go way down. And, unlike the west as I've seen it, you can creep up on the mountains here and stay out of any avy danger. I'ts a 3 hour skin in to the bowl through the woods. Will I do that? Sure. Would I go higher? Not without the gear and the knowledge how to use it.


Yeah, when I first came out here I was humbled so quickly I couldn't believe what people where skiing. The NE and the NW are as far apart in terms of terrain and snowfall as they are geographically. And worlds apart in terms of the risks and the rewards as well.

I grew up skiing the backwoods of Pennsylvania, NY and Vermont. The biggest risk on an average day was not getting your eye poked out by a twig. Mountain girl makes some good points about the mindset you need to venture into the woods. True for all outdoor and wildreness adventures. Realisticly though, most of the woods there are a few thousand acres. The risk is less and certainly the avi risk is more or less negligible.

On this end, having skins and sticking to the "lower angle" stuff won't keep you safe. Table mountain is one of my favorite playgrounds. Lots of 50o chutes and deep snow. The access in, however is low angle...but it kills people every single year. The first snow fatality of the season was there in November. Snowshoer got disoriented and fell off the edge. Despite the fact that he was less than 100 yards from the ski area. it took 24 hours to find him. Different world; different skills needed.

I wouldn't hesitate to ski backcountry in the east without a transceiver. I rarely ski inbounds here without one.

I like Mountain Girls comments about partners though. I kinda feel the same way about everything I do; which works out because those kinds of skills are more common to the people who live in the riskier areas; spend their free time in the wilderness or ski 100+ days. If those kind of people aren't as common where you're at, find someone promising, and drag them into it.
post #21 of 24
Just to follow up...
By all means have fun, and I know there are places you can go without gear (which, as pointed out above, will not save you in many cases anyway)
what I was trying to caution you about was the mental approach... looking for "what you can get away with" was what worried me
but it was probably not meant that way anyway, just set off my alarm bells.
post #22 of 24
On a final note

post #23 of 24
Thread Starter 

Wanted to thank everyone for their advice, its exactly the stuff I was looking for. Didnt mean to give the impression that I could get by on avy terrain without avy gear/training, hope thats clear now. I was just looking for some places to get my feet wet without having to drop a ton of money on the beacon and training. Looks like Ive got a fair amount of reading to do but the links everyone provided have been really helpful so far.

Thanks again guys I really appreciate all the help.

post #24 of 24
Thread Starter 
Just wanted to follow up and thank everyone again, it took awhile but my touring setup is finally complete. Tried it out last weekend at Stratton and Im really happy with it, although Im still getting used to the feel of the bindings, plus the softer flex of the boot.

Now I just need to find somewhere I can still skin this late in the season, looks like my options are pretty limited but Im thinking Magic which is only 5 hours from Philly.
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