Fundamentally, my questions are thus:
1. Why do the best skiers need the biggest, burliest gear?
2. Why is it the fittest folks have all the lightest gear?
I think it's fairly safe to say that much of the growth in the backcountry ski market has come from resort skiers venturing into the backcountry. Therefore, it stands to reason that they are already at least decent skiers, and - at least here in the Wasatch - most of the backcountry skiing is in untracked snow on 30-35 degree slopes; ie - really easy, sublime, and "effortless" skiing. My very scientific validation for this is that when it's been high pressure and hasn't snowed a flake for a week, the skiing is a mixture of sun crusts, wind crusts, and old tracks, there's almost no one out skiing until that next dump. And then, ironically, despite the fact that people LOVE super deep powder, they get really fat skis that don't actually get down into that DEEP powder! (Confucious say: “if Grasshopper want deeper powder, Grasshopper get skinnier sticks”)
Therefore, this is what is/has been happening:
· skiers ski at resorts
· skiers get good
· skiers decide to get into backcountry skiing to ski more untracked powder
· skiers buy phat skis, near-alpine boots, and big bindings that collectively weigh over 20 pounds (no exaggeration: 4.5 lb boots, 5 pound skis, and 3 lb bindings – per leg - = 24 pounds) even though they don't have much fitness and they will be skiing (most often) mellower terrain and better snow.
Theoretically, a good, resort-bred skier should only "need" pencil sticks and floppy boots to ski in the backcountry and - if indeed they have spent/do spend most of their time running cables - actually do "need" light gear to enable them to shuffle up the skin track at a reasonable rate. However, as we all know, the opposite happens: the "best" skiers have the biggest gear. And many times it's the newbies who are on the lighter, less-performance-oriented gear, even though theoretically they need the most "help" from their gear. And interestingly, it seems like the only folks who have the lightest gear – the “racers” – are also the fittest! It’s totally backwards: fit guys have light gear, unfit resort guys have heavy gear!
For sure, there are a couple of different segments: the dramatically-increasing slackcountry/out of bounds folks who really don’t do much hiking and are more resort than backcountry, and then the backcountry regulars who plop themselves in the middle: medium-weight boots, medium-fat skis (relative to the monsters at the resorts) and - their ode to “lightweight” - Dynafit bindings. But having dabbled a little in the really lightweight ski arena, I am pretty convinced of a couple of things:
- The lightweight gear today skis surprisingly well
- If people were willing to try it, they’d be very surprised at how good the stuff skis.
I think it’s fair to say that we ski for the excitement of the activity. There are lots of other reasons to be sure, but “excitement” is almost always a component of skiing. And even though big skis and big boots enable one to ski fast - which of course is exciting - I can vouch for the fact that skiing really fast on skinny sticks is a heckuva lot more “exciting” than skiing on big phatties! And more challenging, which is part of the fun and enjoyment. If skiing weren’t challenging to master it’d be called snowboarding, but it’d also be not as fulfilling. So why are we endeavoring to take some of the challenge out of it by annually making it easier vis’ a vis our phat new gear?
Choose your weapon! It may be hard to believe, but them skis on the right actually ski nice powder - and corn, and crust, and steeps - quite well.
It’s true that most of the time I fall squarely in that middlin’ category with my standard rig being medium-weight boots, biggish skis, and Dynafit bindings. And I like to ski fast; faster than I do on my little skis and certainly a
LOT faster than I did with my leather teles on 205 hippystix back in the day. But the truth is that if all my ski partners had lighter boots with better range of motion, and thinner, shorter, foam-cored or carbon skis……we’d all ski a lot more. And more is better, in my notso humble opinion. But apparently, for the broader backcountry ski community, “better” is better, and that supercedes “more”.
But don’t get me wrong; burly backcountry ski gear isn’t all bad: if people are hauling around 20+ lbs on their feet, another 4 lbs on their FlyLow pants, (and wearing their sweaty-ass $540 Arcteryx Gore-Tex Jacket and bibs, and ski helmet, and goggles on a long, south-facing skin track)…..they probably aren’t spending a lot of time “out there”, either in terms of time or distance from the trailhead….and therefore not poachin’ my future lines!