The major hurdle for northbound thru-hikers on the CDT pivots on snow levels in Southern Colorado. This is a major point of stress, and rightly so. Stories of thigh-deep post-holing for miles (a veritable swimming pool of spring snow) may sound sweet if you are a skier, but as a backpacker intent on making it to Canada before NEW snow falls on THOSE mountains, anything that slows your pace down to 1 mile an hour deserves the panic. Just ask anyone intent on heading out on the CDT what their snow plan is, and see the wild look that comes into their eyes. It’s a real fear.
My good friend Speedstick had EPIC snow in 2011, her stories made me think…
Since moving to Bend, and taking up several new outdoor sports, backcountry touring has been one of the most enjoyable ways Kirk and I spend time outside. We’re not talking about skiing sick lines off of Broken Top or South Sister, but traveling long distances over snow. Really, it’s backpacking…in winter.
Here we are camping on LaConte Crater (…think the volcanic cone on the PCT right by South Sister) in JULY one year.
2010 was a low snow year…we hiked half way into Tilly Jane hut on the east side of Mt. Hood before the skis went on.
So Kirk and I got to thinking after hearing our friend’s horror stories (or lack there-of because they skipped around the heavy snow sections) about these “spring skiing” conditions on the CDT. Spring skiing is some of the best skiing out there! The snow pack is relatively stable, the air warm, the sky blue, and the snow slushy in the mornings, icy at night. I feel pretty comfortable in those conditions.
And then Kirk, ever the searcher of cool experiences and amazing adventures, commented that he had seen shoe bindings made for polar expeditions that would probably work if I wanted to ski some of Colorado. What!!?!
OF COURSE I WANT TO TRY THAT.
Needless to say I liked his idea, and we decided that some old Atomic Rainier metal-edge touring skis that he had were light, and would work well for the job.
So now to make the binding.
Now please don’t think I’m any sort of McGyver type here. This is all Kirk. I would still be in snowshoes if it wasn’t for this man. He can make anything, and I think we are a pretty damn good team.
He started with a cardboard template.
Now for the webbing and such…
Yep, yep, a little more this way…back an inch…
Now for the plastic.
Ok, yep, this is coming together.
Let add the shoe!
Things came together over the past 4 months. Some of that time was spent sitting on the couch talking about the idea of how great these would be if they worked, but for practicality, I was eager to try them, could this really work?
Cut to this weekend.
Kirk finished up the bindings on Saturday and mounted them on the Atomics. We headed to Dutchman Sno Park for another amazingly clear “spring” day in Central Oregon.
I hiked in a ways before putting the skis on (you know…simulating real world conditions!!) Really, how will these skis carry on the back of my pack?? Verdict: very well indeed. The two skis together weigh just over 4 pounds.
I discover my limiting factor will be the strength of my ankles.
All in all a great first run. We started to ski into some more varied terrain, but after falling a few times it sunk in: I was not in my plastic touring boots, I was in low-top trail shoes (no ankle support). I think these shoes will be perfect if I have a deep snowy section of less than a week. If it happens that there is a blizzard Armageddon in Colorado between now and June, and I think I’ll need the skis more than a week or two, I would get high-top hiking boots instead for the extra ankle support. That, however, is unlikely.
Kirk went for it though. Whenever we are out touring he’s always climbing to get in some short runs.
Oh! Maybe some air?
On the ski back we took off layers and again bemoaned the fact that this was the winter that winter didn’t happen, all the while pretty happy to soak up the warm sun on a beautiful day.
And here’s a short video I put together of the ski.