Ski Gear Basics
The skinnier the ski, the better it is suited for day trips on groomed trails.
The fatter the ski, the more it is suited to finding slopes to ski down (generally, telemarking).
The in-between skis are best for multiday, pack-carrying tours, and unprepared trails, i.e. heading off into the backcountry.
These will be for backcountry telemark/Alpine Tour skiing (with skins), or at the resort.
- 80–90mm width underfoot – perfect for Australia
- 90–100mm underfoot – perfect for NZ
- 100+mm underfoot – perfect for Canada, US, Japan, etc.
The Black Diamond Link 90 is a good one-size-fits-most ski in the sense that it is a suitable size for skiing Australian snow, with the occasional trip to NZ, and OK for a trip to the northern hemisphere every other year.
Just remember: skinny skis = firm snow; fat skis = powder snow.
This is the difference in width between the middle and the tip/tail. Bigger sidecuts are better for turns, but will be more skittish in a straight line. The opposite is true for a shallow sidecut.
Choose based on weight only. As a quick calculator: your weight + 100cm ≈ the length of ski you need.
- Rottefella Xcelerator bindings are specifically designed for track skiing – either classic or skate.
- Rottefella NBC bindings are suitable for day trips.
- Rottefella Super Telemark (“Rat trap”) bindings are suited to both day trips and longer, off track ones.
- Classic cables Voile HD 3 Pin Cable are suited to multiday touring on unprepared trails.
- Cartridge cables (e.g. Black Diamond O2 and 22 Designs Vice) are much stiffer and OK for longer tours off track, but also for telemarking in steeper terrain. These can come in ‘tour’ versions (Black Diamond O1, 22 Designs Axl) where the entire binding will pivot (from the toe rather than the boot flexing at the ball of the foot) and makes going uphill a lot easier. The problem with cables (especially the cartridge ones) are that they give resistance – you will be fighting the springs with every step.
- NTN Bindings (Rottefella NTN Freedom allow for more versatility. They are step-in, releasable (though not DIN certified) and offer a more precise feeling while skiing, with unencumbered pivot while climbing.
Alpine Touring (AT or Randonee or touring) bindings:
These operate like a normal downhill bindings, but with the option for releasing the heel so that the binding can pivoting for ‘walking’ – no need to learn how to telemark.
- Dynafit is lightweight and performs pretty well on the downhills;
- Ski Trab is ultralightweight and more suited to touring and the ups than skiing hard on the downs;
- Salomon is the combination of a light, pin style touring binding with the power of a downhill set up;
- Silvretta is light and will fit pretty much any boot so is good for mountaineers who want to use skis to access climbs.
Leather boots (e.g. Andrew Claut, Andrew Zenith) are best suited to lightweight trips, but can still be suitable for multiday tours. The Zenith, due to its buckle can handle telemarking on mellow terrain. The fit of leather boots can be more forgiving than plastic boots. They can also be a good option when skiing the shoulder seasons as they will be more suitable for walking between snow patches.
With any smooth-based ski (and occasionally even with a pattern based ski), skins are necessary. There are different schools of thought regarding skin width, but we find that it’s best to get one somewhere inbetween the width underfoot and the tip – often, this is approximately the tail width.
For instance, with the Black Diamond Link skis mentioned earlier (sidecut 127-90-113), we suggest a skin 110mm or 115mm wide. Getting a skin wider than the tip (the widest part of the ski) is unnecessary and getting one narrower than underfoot (the narrowest part) means you’ll not get grip when edging the ski.
Cut the skin to the size and shape of the ski, leaving the metal edges exposed. With the above example, it would be possible to use a 90mm skin and not cut it at all – some folks prefer this because it is a lighter option, but be aware that it lessens grip.
Kicker skins are a much more compact and lighter option – they go underfoot, but don't run the length of the ski. Kicker skins are useful for undulating terrain with a smooth-based ski, or for a long climb or tackling icy snow on a pattern-based ski (when the pattern won’t offer enough grip).
Our four most common types of ski customers:
1. Daytripper/Cross-country skiers
Style: You ski on groomed trails, generally daytripping.
Locations: Lake Mountain, Mt Stirling, Baw Baw plateau, Dinner Plain or Falls Creek XC trails.
2. Multiday/Off-track tourers
Style: You may still do day trips and may ski on groomed trails from time to time, but could realistically be skiing anywhere there is snow. You may seek out steep slopes for fun when you get to camp and may need to compromise on the ski that suits one aspect of your skiing.
Locations: Maybe the huts out of Falls Creek on the Bogong High Plains; Feathertop or Bogong; the Jagungal wilderness in NSW; or Howitt Plains.
- Madshus Eon or Epoch;
- Rottefella Super Telemark bindings; or Black Diamond O2 bindings; Voile HD 3 Pin Cable or Rottefella NBC bindings.
- A leather boot (Andrew Claut or Zenith) or Scott Excursion or Alfa Quest Advance.
3. Backcountry Telemarkers (and very occasional Alpine Tourers) – pattern-based skis
Style: You want to ski steep terrain. You may use them at the resort from time to time (but not regularly). You may be camping out and carrying a pack. You may do long tours from time to time.
Locations: Bogong, Feathertop, NSW Main Range.
- Fisher S-Bound 125, Madshus Epoch or Annum. Generally, we will not put an Alpine Touring binding on a pattern-based ski, but sometimes someone will insist – this is okay for the fatter skis (Madshus Annum, Fischer S-Bound 125);
- A cartridge-type binding (e.g. Black Diamond O2, 22 Designs Vice) and you may consider the ‘tour’ mode ones (Black Diamond O1, 22 Designs Axl); possibly an NTN binding – Rottefella NTN Freedom;
- Any plastic boot. (Remember: more buckles = stiffer = better for steeper terrain).
- Even though the skis have a pattern, a skin may be required.
4. Backcountry Telemarkers and Alpine Touring skiers – smooth-based skis
Style: Almost always steep terrain, and often at the resorts. Sometimes daytrips (‘slackcountry’), sometimes will spend a week somewhere, camped out.
Locations: Bogong, Feathertop, NSW Main Range.
- Any of the smooth-based skis;
- Any of the cartridge-type bindings, NTN binding or AT bindings. It may be worth asking about DIN settings (releasability) on bindings;
- A boot with at least three buckles;
- You will have to buy skins.
- You should pair a skinny ski with a lightweight boot and binding, and a bigger ski with a heavier boot and binding. It’s best to think of the entire set up when selecting a single component (a big ski and a big boot with a lightweight binding, for instance, is not recommended).
- The length of the ski is chosen purely on your weight – the ski can’t tell how tall someone is. There are two general rules: weight (kg) + 100 = cm in length of ski; OR the ski is about as tall you are (plus or minus 10cm, depending on if you are tall and lanky, fat and squat, and/or carrying a big backpack a lot of the time).
- Skiers often have multiple uses in mind: daytrips out to Lake Mountain; a few overnighters, including an annual trip to Jagungal for a week; and an annual trip to Mt Bogong to Telemark. If you're one of these people, you'll have to buy three skis, or one that is a compromise. There is no one ski for all occasions.
- Be familiar with the bindings, and what it is to Telemark versus Alpine Tour. You will need to decide early on whether you want to telemark or AT ski. This is an important decision to make, because it determines the style of skiing you will be doing. It is the equivalent of asking, "I want to buy a bike: so should I buy a road bike or a mountain bike?" – they are quite different.
- Don’t get too caught up. You will see people at Lake mountain with rat-trap bindings and leather boots. We know of people who have skied for a week across the Jagungal area on NBC bindings and Alpina boots. The skier had tried lots of boots on and none of them fitted right. But the Alpinas did, and so this skier did big, committing trips with an undercooked boot, but one that fitted. Also: 20 years ago, people skied big lines on big mountains with leather boots.
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