Winter gear; boots, skis, poles, bindings, a shovel and no gloves.

I keep planning trips that go further and further North in order to eke out the last few drips of Winter, but that’s not going to work forever. So before the good times end here’s a post to raise a toast to some new winter-gear that’s worked well this season.

The ebbing of Winter, stalactites turn to stalagmites. 

Ski-Boots
Recently I saw that Henrik from hikinginfinland.com was my boot-buddy, sporting the same sexy Madshus Glittertind NNN-BC boots I have. They’re toasty warm, decently waterproof, and the own-brand breathable material seems to work well for keeping them dry despite the sweaty feet they’ve had to put up with.

Prudish shoe with snow cover closed on left, whorish shoe with everything exposed on right. 

The snow cover is a great feature. It covers up the laces so you don’t get snow there, simple. The laces are where you have a lot of problems with snow, it packs in the eyelets, around the lace, under the lace, on top of the lace, behind the lace and so on. Then you get a lot of heat there, on top of the foot, so the snow melts and refreezes around the laces, the laces become solid with ice and that all means problems keeping the boots dry. The snow cover eliminates all that, as well as increasing the insulation of the boot.

There’s snow such thing as a free lunch though, the snow cover brings with it two problems. First is the zipper. Zips are a worry, hard to replace, easy to break. We’ll see how they play out after some more abuse. Secondly, gaiters or snow-pants are usually attached to the boot with a hook that catches onto the lowest point of the lace. With the snow cover hiding the laces to clip into, the Madshus designers have thrown a little hook on the front of the boot, but it’s hopelessly inadequate compared to a normal lace system. Laces are held in place with a series of many strong eyelets. Any force from your snow pants is put onto the lace system which can take a lot of stress, the same is not true for this inadequately sewn hook on the front of the Glittertinds. A light pull on the hook reveals some threads stretching out from the leather. Dodgy.

The cuff that binds the ankle support tightly around the ankle is also a detail I’m going to nitpick, it’s velcro, and I don’t like velcro. 

When velcro is new it binds with snow and ice, and when it’s old it doesn’t stick to anything, not even the other half of the velcro. I’d like to have a pic of this, after my last trip the whole hook part of the velcro was a block of ice, but I had other things on my mind at the time. Finally the insole is just evidence that most boot manufacturers are in league with the insole manufacturers, this insole has all the comfort and insulation of a wet fart. Lundhags owe Madshus a kickback.


Check out the insane difference with these insoles. The Lundhags insoles are 60% wool and as thick, soft and warm as Lundhags wool gear usually is. The Madshus insoles are much thinner and made of old chinese take-away boxes.

I read the fascinating and timely story from Henrik about his frostbite experience, and wonder if the ski boots he had on were these same Glittertinds. I have been out in the minus 20°s, and found that when my feet got cold it came from below. The walls of the shoes are thick and well insulated with thinsulate, but the sole, as with all NNN-BC boots, is a huge dense rigid block of plastic, so for insulation from the ground it’s really up to the insoles to work well, and they don’t. The difference after I swapped in the Lundhags insoles was night and day, they’re an easily recommended upgrade. The boots are a half size up from my normal so still plenty of toe-wiggling-room.
This all sounds unduly negative, I’m just not blown away by any sense of quality as with the price-equivalent Cripsi or Alpina boots, but the Glittertinds were far more comfortable and felt warmer. And comfort is king when skiing. And after a few days skiing they are still as clean and dry as when you start out, which is largely due to the snow cover, and that is the reason I picked them over the competitors. They weight in at a kilo each, size 46, and if you think these boots are heavy you’re going to cry when you see my skis.

Skis
Henrik turned out not to be my boot buddy at all, but one of those sick puppies that rides waxless skis, the clitter-clattering spawn of the devil’s loins! And he’s not alone, Joe “No wax please, I’m British” Newton from Thunderinthenight does it too. I can’t stay away from expensive unnecessary complications though, and have jumped onto the sticky, swishy, messy wax-train with a pair of oversized, Fischer expedition steel edged back-country skis. You know gear is going to get heavy when it has the word expedition in the name, they’re no exception to the rule. 220 cm long, steel edged all the way, 2 kilos each.

They’re probably a little long for me (188 cm, 75 kg of pure muscle, usually with around 15 kg of gear and clothes), but I’m not complaining. They work OK in a track, and work insanely well off the track. The camber is 68-60-77 (around 1500 cm2 per ski), so that kind of drags a little in the track and I guess if you’re some kind of goose-stepping track-nazi then you probably hate me for using them in tracks. Not to worry, they rarely go in a track. There are some amazing tracks around Stockholm, but no matter how beautiful the scenery and how great the weather and company, I can’t help just thinking how fucking boring it is to go round these well-worn paths like a Scalextric car. Going off the tracks is much more fun, and with these extra long Austrians, the snow gets only around 30 grammes per square cm, and it shows. Even in fresh light snow they float along the surface, and on a good crust they really fly. The tip is raised 11 cm and this really helps when going in deep soft powder snow, or when going downhill through the forests. After raising downhill, at the bottom of the slope the skis submerge down into the metre deep drifts of snow, the tips force the skis up, and they burst through the surface of the snow again like a surfacing U-boat.

The extra length causes problems too though, it’s a pain in the ass amongst the tighter parts of the forest, and skate-skiing on them is really difficult. Skate-skiing is really difficult on really light, short skis too. It’s something I haven’t mastered yet but do intend to, mostly because the tracks left behind look so impressive and Swedish chicks dig it.

Waxing the base is part of the ski-culture that I can dig, it’s science! I like science! In the pic above I’m using grip tape, which is the easy way out, but my friend Sofie just happens to be the ski-guru of Sweden and will hopefully stick some wax-knowledge into my brain. So far grip-tape has been very satisfactory, it handles all conditions pretty well, once you have cut the tape to match the grip-zone that you want. When the conditions are good you really fly along in a way that feels like you’re breaking the rules of physics. On or off track, the stiff legged Nordic ski style propels you along at a rate that is totally out of sync with your movements like a bad special effect. The rate of work is moderate, you quickly get warm (a base-layer is usually all that’s needed once your blood gets pumping, even at quite cold temperatures), but never have to strain yourself or overheat. Hour after hour you can march along, the whole time travelling at speeds that do not match your body movements at all. The sensation of speed with respect to effort is difficult to describe to non-skiers, it’s a bit like that feeling you get when you walk on one of those express walkways in airports, zipping along at a sprint but with no effort. That’s when conditions are good, when conditions are bad skiing is only as fast as walking.
Wading through metre deep snow is a good way to soak your clothes in sweat
Feel free to get frustrated by your walking pace, to take off the skis and try walking instead. Doing a walking pace on skis is impressive once you realise the speed you do without skis in metre deep snow is around five metres in a minute, with incredible effort. Anyone stupid enough to have tried a trip through snowy mountains and valleys without skis will swear that skis are worth their weight in gold in deep snow.
 
Bindings
The bindings are NNN-BC magnums. 

They’re called magnums because when you snap the lever closed it sounds like Dirty Harry is shooting off. The idea is you can’t get these babies blocked with snow. So far that’s been how they worked out, other foolish, lesser bindings have been carefully picked clean of snow after failing to close, while these babies explode into action no matter what. Heavier than auto-bindings, but worth it to save on frustration. They’re are also ridiculously wide (67mm), so when I do my incredibly beautiful Telemark turns I can control the skis with ease. I have no pictures of my beautiful perfect Telemark turns yet because I can’t do them when I’m awake. I have plenty of pictures of me falling on my ass though.
I have the other NNN-BC manual bindings on my skates, a pair of Lundhags Exas. They are NNN-BC manual, 56 mm wide on the plate, a little smaller lever, a red rubber bumper instead of black, and a little less click when being closed.
Long-skating is one of the most fun activities I’ve done in my life, it’s just hard to get good conditions for it. 
A comparison of the magnum and normal manual bindings are shown below, the magnums are just a little wider in the grey lever, which has a much thicker ribs (shown when open). The baseplate is also wider.
Ski poles
The poles are Gipron 797 Flicklock poles. A testament to my stupidity they are, I picked them up in a hurry before heading off for an igloo-building weekend, and they drove me mad. The fliplock lets you shorten them up for packing or extend them up to 155 cm, but they would not stay extended. The slightest pressure on the pole and they folded up, it drove me absolutely mental. Then I pulled over and examined them for a second and realised there was a little screw in the fliplock. A few turns with the tip of a morakniv and they were solid as a rock.

The ability to shorten them up is nice for when you need to pack them away, or if you want to use them to prop up a tarp, but also turns out to be great when you are skiing through forested hills, extend them for valleys and downhill, shorten for the grinding uphill parts.

You can pop open the fliplock easily enough, adjust the poles as you like, they shorten to a metre when totally collapsed.

The baskets are sexy, classy leather, 12.5 cm in diameter. Some mean people may laugh at you for having “old” poles because apparently this kind of leather basket is ridiculously obsolete and stupid. Those people have no taste.

The nicest thing about these poles so far is that they’re still straight. I’m not sure why, they are made of aluminium and my experience of aluminium poles is that they turn from straight (before Tomás uses them) to curved (after Tomás uses them). These poles have gone through more punishment than any I’ve used before, just because they’re mine and I use them all the time (for some reason nobody will lend me their poles anymore). Perhaps they’re thicker than normal poles? The lack of curvature is no indication that I’ve gotten any better at skiing, I tend not to fall so much on the flat anymore but skiing through hills with a rucksack on means I’m putting these poor bastards through a lot more impacts than any ski poles have ever experienced before.

They weight in at around 360 gr each. A little heavy but the adaptability and toughness make up for that.

One bizarre point is how the basket is secured, no handy Swix/Leki style removable/interchangeable baskets, there is a weird little fastener which is hammered down to hold the basket in place.

Or at least that’s what I guessed it was for, not entirely sure if it’s meant to be hammered down even more, feel free to weight in if you have a clue. Gipron have a kind of ‘figure it out yourself’ attitude when it comes to instructions, and I’m too terrified of the sales staff in Stockholm shops to ask them.
Shovel
The Grand Shelters Icebox required a good shovel, so I picked up an Ortovox Kodiak.

Bizarre how pristine the blade edge still looks from the front side.

The back side shows a different story, what a lovely jagged blade edge, great for shaving with.

The handle has this diamond pattern texture on it, for grip when you’re shovelling with gloves. It’s a little problematic, the texture is very sticky (it feels a little like a fine sandpaper), and picks up snow as you work.

The heat from your hands melts the snow, which freezes onto the diamond pattern, and forms a big pad of ice over time. This turns out to not be a problem at all, it happens mostly if you have no gloves on, and so far I’ve not noticed the ice because when using the shovel my hands are so warm from all the work that the ice doesn’t bother me. It’s only annoying if you want to clean your gear off before packing up, the ice formed turns out to be really really solid and is impossible to remove easily.

The full extended length is 88 cm, useful for when filling in the top block of an igloo.

Collapsed, the shovel is just 49 cm. It fits neatly on the back of the icebox igloo tool.

You can see the big lump of ice on the handle in the picture below. The shit on the handle in the picture above is just snow, the shit on the handle in the picture below is a translucent centimetre thick and as hard as nails.

The shovel has three parts, the blade (with a two-way socket), then the centre section of the shaft and finally the D-handle end of the shaft. All three parts separate easily with the little silver spring buttons. When they click into place they hold the parts very rigidly, there’s no wobble or shake in the shovel.

The two-way socket can accept the shaft at 90 °, forming a rudimentary ice pick. Have not used this so much, I guess it might come in handy if I have to defend myself against a bear.

The shovel is hard to find fault with, the icey grip isn’t a big deal to me, the D-handle is a luxury to have and the build quality is of such a high calibre it’s nice to just hold the shovel and play with it.
Pretty metal.
No gloves
Gloves in winter, what an issue! I’m more or less satisfied with the skis, boots, poles, rucksack, stove, sleeping bag, mat … There is nothing that is so bad that I want to replace it, except for my gloves. The problem is I have no idea what to replace, or what to replace with. Currently I have plenty of options, thick thinsulate gloves, thin ski-gloves, huge Swedish military surplus wool-lined mittens, fingerless wool gloves, woolen wrist gaiters etc etc. They all have strengths and weaknesses. Mittens are great for very cold weather but are only useful for skiing around in. It’s impossible to do anything with them on so when it comes to putting up a tent or using a stove, they have to come off. When they are needed most, they can’t be used, so the cycle with mittens is to take them off, work until your hands freeze, warm them up and so on. The same essentially applies to warmer finger-gloves, the warmer the glove, the thicker the material on each finger and the less dexterity. Thin ski-gloves are OK to work in, but they get wet quickly and seem to cool the hands down rather than heat them up. Counterintuitively, a thin layer of insulation can be less effective than nothing at all, especially when wet. And highly dexterous gloves count for nothing when your fingers are cold and numb.

What I have found so far is that gloves are only really needed when it’s very cold (below -20), or in the mornings. When I get up and crawl out of my sleeping bag my hands are not happy and let me know it by making any kind of finger-work torture. Cold, numb, swollen burning fingers are a horrible beginning to a day of skiing. Problematically, the morning is when you need to use your hands. It’s that part of the day involves packing up, and nothing is more painful than trying to roll iced-up mats and bivy-bags with freezing hands, with the night-chill still in the air. Thirty minutes after I start skiing they are totally fine, my body warms up, blood starts pumping and then it doesn’t seem to matter if I’m shovelling snow around, drinking water out of a stream from my cupped hands, or falling for the fiftieth fucking time into waist-deep drifts of powder, they feel invulnerable. Once my core temperature gets high enough, and my blood starts pumping, I can squeeze a handful of snow until it’s melted away and my hands just feel like they’re on fire (in a good way). So protecting my core body temperature is key to warm hands, but the early mornings are just torture.

So far my plan has been to just try and get through the mornings as fast as possible, and pack away the gear in a frenzy, but during those moments of total agony when I have to force my dead, unresponsive hands into my suddenly-too-small pockets, I do tend to fantasise about the possibilities of some warm, waterproof and dexterous gloves.

A shot of my hands after they get to that magic state of immunity to cold temperatures, sporting some delightful fingerless wool mittens. 

If you want to read up a little about what’s good (Mountain Hardwear’s “Outdry” waterproofing, apparently) and what’s bad (taped seams) in gloves, check out these links from climber Kelly Cordes. In chronological order, Glove article, Glove system replies, More glove system replies, and  Gloves – more cowbell.

6 thoughts on “Winter gear; boots, skis, poles, bindings, a shovel and no gloves.

  • March 20, 2011 at 10:03 am
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    Awesome article Tomas, covering many of my true winter nerdy gear loves.

    Boots – I've still not seen anything even remotely approaching what I want. Basically I want an ultralight, super simple plastic tele boot with removable liners. With NNN-BC gear we're stuck with heavy, lined, hiking style boots.

    Insoles – tried wool felt, took too long to dry and took up too much volume in my boots making my toes cold. SuperFeet Redhots were just awful. Toasty Feet Aerogels seem better but look like they'll last about a week…

    Skis – I find 195 skis long enough for my 184 height and a wee bit easier to guide through the trees. Next year I'll go for even wider and shorter skis but thats a reflection of the more mountainous west coast area I ski in. As for wax/waxless… we'll agree to disagree, safe in the knowledge that we all make our chosen poison work for our conditions.

    Poles – you keep rocking the big bad-ass backcountry baskets with pride! Leave the lycra-clad racer boys to their girly plastic baskets 😉

    Gloves – ah sweet gloves, my favourite yet most frustrating gear dilema. Simple answer? Thin, quick drying liners, two pairs (so they can be dried in rotation in an inside pocket) are warm and dextrous enough for almost everything, especially whilst actually skiing. A pair of pile lined, NON-waterproof mitts for cold/wind/snow conditions (Helly Hansen do some awesome cheap mitts or Montane Extremes) and warming up in the morning. I sometimes carry a Waterproof shell mitt in Spring in case of rain and always carry a pair of Buffalo mitts as emergency back-ups.

    Reply
  • March 23, 2011 at 10:01 am
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    Boots – I've still not seen anything even remotely approaching what I want. Basically I want an ultralight, super simple plastic tele boot with removable liners. With NNN-BC gear we're stuck with heavy, lined, hiking style boots.

    I definitely see the problem with current BC boots, it's difficult to find anything that isn't a huge leather outer, thinsulate lined monster. I think next year I will have to move to the NTN binding and get some of those nice plastic Scarpa Terminators. Telemark skiing, how hard can that be?

    Insoles – tried wool felt, took too long to dry and took up too much volume in my boots making my toes cold. SuperFeet Redhots were just awful. Toasty Feet Aerogels seem better but look like they'll last about a week…

    I actually saw some reindeer fur insoles at the outdoors fair here in Stockholm last week, was very curious. If the wool liners too up too much space for you though I think these might fill your boot completely, they looked like foot shaped cardboard cutouts with a centimetre of old carpet stuck on.

    Skis – I find 195 skis long enough for my 184 height and a wee bit easier to guide through the trees. Next year I'll go for even wider and shorter skis but thats a reflection of the more mountainous west coast area I ski in. As for wax/waxless… we'll agree to disagree, safe in the knowledge that we all make our chosen poison work for our conditions.

    Turning on these 220 skis is more of an abstract idea than a possibility. It feels a little like turning an oil tanker. Fine for the gentle hills around Sweden, but that lack of exposure is also the most frustrating thing about Sweden. No mountains, just miles and miles of flat lakes and flat forest. I get very jealous looking at Norway on google maps! Will be heading across the border next week to try get my mountain fix. The skis will stay at home 🙂

    Reply
  • January 25, 2012 at 9:26 pm
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    Thank for the post, I'm searching for a pair of 'old style' ski pole baskets identical to the ones you have. But am having trouble finding them on the internet. Where did you get yours?

    Reply
  • January 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm
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    I think I got mine at Naturkompaniet, the Swedish outdoors stores. However the company that makes them (Gipron) are pretty big in poles, so it should be possible to order them in. The model number is 797 flicklock, although they make other big basket ones too.

    http://www.gipron.it/en/specialities.html

    Or for a cheaper model without the leather, but with that old style big basket, you could check out the Tegnäs poles, very low price for a good quality pole.

    http://www.tegsnas.com/ehandelstavar

    Good luck!

    Reply

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