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.|
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.
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.
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.
|Wading through metre deep snow is a good way to soak your clothes in sweat|
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.|
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.
You can pop open the fliplock easily enough, adjust the poles as you like, they shorten to a metre when totally collapsed.
They weight in at around 360 gr each. A little heavy but the adaptability and toughness make up for that.
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.
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.
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.
|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.