Traveling in snow for the beginner

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by gunbunny, Feb 19, 2014.

  1. gunbunny

    gunbunny Never Trust A Bunny

    As a primer, skis don't just slide across the snow, they interact thermodynamically with it. As the ski's base surface comes in contact with the individual snow crystals, they heat up due to friction and melt. This very thin layer of water is what the skis actually glide on. That's why skis won't work if it gets too cold, like in the antarctic.

    Considering that 49 out of 50 states had snow on the ground last week, I thought about the least expensive way to get a set of skis for someone that is not thoroughly acquainted with skiing. Not all skiing is done fast (like downhill racing in the Olympics), or done on a slope (alpine). Skiing was devised as a method of transport.

    With that in mind, if you ever expect to see more than eight inches of snow on your doorstep, then I'll run down a few things I've learned in the last ten years about cross country skiing. Generally, cross country skiing is less expensive than Alpine skiing. That still doesn't mean it's cheap, but there are several things one can do to keep the costs down.

    First of all, cross country skiing is quite different than alpine (or downhill, if you are old like me). X-country skis are much narrower than today's Alpine, All-Mountain, or Powder skis; they are meant to be more efficient. X-country skis are much longer, and have a more pronounced camber. Camber is the arc the ski makes when it is sitting (base down) on the floor without any weight on it.


    This picture contains several types of skis. The two sets of short skis in the front left are for children. The set behind them are military surplus cross country skis with military bindings. They were made by Kifiru, and are very well made. Quite a bargain at $20 per set, and $65 for the bindings. For a set of NEW skis, that's cheap.

    My skis are on the right. They are a hybrid pair of skis that I saved my pennies up and bought. They are All-mountain skis with convertible bindings. They allow me, with a flip of a lever, to have the stability of alpine skis on a slope, or the ability to pivot the toe and cross country ski.


    X-country skis pivot the shoe (a little too light and short to be called a boot, but they are) at the toe and lift the heel, whereas alpine skis do not- the boot is firmly held in place so quick turns can easily be made with control at speed. My skis, the whole boot and part of the binding pivot at the toe when in x-c mode.

    The upsides of X-country skis are that they are able to move across flat, inclined, or declined ground with ease. Alpine skis are not able to move very well on the flat- you can do it, but it takes a lot of energy. Don't bother trying to go uphill, you will just exhaust yourself.

    The downsides are going downhill. Speed is not your friend with cross country skis, think slow and steady. I know, the biathlons during the winter Olympics are fast, but they are using skate skis on a groomed trail. We are talking the side of a mountain, or whatever you have in your AO, usually not conducive for the use of skate skis.

    The children's skis are just waxed with glidewax, they don't need anything else until they are big enough and acquire enough skills to handle x-c skiing. Right now, they are content to be pulled along by Mrs Gunbunny and myself.


    Little Gunbunny (look at that smile!) is holding a tether that is wrapped around my waist. She hardly weighs anything at all, and only impedes my travel when going up a hill that's a little too steep without skins.

    When they were too small for skis, I would pull them around in a sled or carry them in a child carrier on my back.

    There are basically two types of x-c skis: waxed base or waxless fishscales. The waxed base is what it implies, the base of the ski is waxed for maximum performance. The waxless base has cuts in the base that look like fishscales that hold the ski in the snow when going uphill. You can wax a waxless base to help it go a little smoother, just don't wax the fishscales or you will not be able to climb anything.

    If you have a waxed base ski, you will need two waxes- glide wax and kick wax. They are used as their names imply, but waxing can get complicated. Waxes perform the best when used at the temperature they are rated for. Only you will know the local temperature of your AO and will have to buy a couple to cover the temperature range you expect.

    Glide wax is pretty easy. It only has one temperature range- snowy to arctic. You just melt the wax onto the base with an old iron and iron it flat, covering every inch of base EXCEPT for the 6 inches in front of and 6 inches behind the pivot point. That's where the weight will be centralized when kicking off (hence kick wax) and the wax will give you something to grip the snow with.

    The kick wax is applied directly from the tube. It has the consistency of hard paste but grabs like rubber cement when you touch it. You just rube the exposed wax from the tube onto the surface of the base in the area where it is needed. If you put it over too much area, you will just not go very fast, especially downhill. Carry the kickwax with you if you are going 10 miles or more, as you may need to reapply it to be effective.

    Both can be had from amazon: Hertel "Super Hot Sauce" All Temperature Ski and Snowboard Wax, 3/4 lb Brick: Sports & Outdoors

    The wax cleaner should be used before applying another dose of wax, to keep all the crud and whatever chemicals out of the base. After applying the wax, let it harden for a few seconds and scrape it flat (one direction only!) with a piece of lexan that has a nice, flat, but sharp edge.

    When climbing something that the kick wax just won't cut it, you will need a set of climbing skins. You will know when it is time to put the skins on, because you will not be able to make forward progress without them. You will just keep slipping under the climbing ski.

    Climbing skins are a type of cloth (usually called moleskin) that is smooth when sliding you hand across it in one direction, and rough when sliding your hand back. This allows the ski to grab the snow, letting you climb. They attach to the skis by way of clips or straps, and usually are sticky on the side that comes in contact with the base.

    Bindings can get confusing, as there are several types (and hybrids). I will only go over the bindings that I have personally used.

    The most common type at the moment for pure X-C skis are the NNN type or New Nordic Norm. The binding is very flat with a shallow groove in it, and a catch at the front. The NNN boot has a horizontal pin on the toe that locks into the catch. This allows the toe to pivot, yet remain firmly attached to the ski. These are very good for long distances, as the skis, boots, and bindings are very light.

    For the old timers, a triple pin nordic binding is favored. It allows the use of a duckbill boot to be used. The toe of a duckbill has an extension on it with three little holes in the bottom of it. These holes line up with the pins on the binding and hold it together with a strap. Sometimes (as in my case) there is a spring loaded cable that wraps around the heel of the boot for extra stability.

    The nice thing about this system is that old Alpine skis can be used. They are great for x-c or telemark skiing if the old hardboot bindings are removed and a set of triple pin bindings added to them. Old alpine skis (in your area even) can be had for very little money on craigslist.

    The military bindings are nice, as they are the least expensive and can use regular hiking boots. They pivot the back end of the binding upwards, but the ball of the foot is stationary. This is actually very comfortable, but the downside is- don't go very fast. The bindings will NOT release if you fall. So the tradeoff is a possible broken ankle or torn ACL if you go too fast and wipe out.

    Search craigslist for used x-c skis, or make your own old style telemark skis from used alpine skis. You can search military surplus outfits on the web for military skis and bindings. I found my skis from Coleman's Surplus: U.S. G.I. Cross Country/Downhill Skis - $19.95 :: Colemans Military Surplus LLC - Your one-stop US and European Army/Navy surplus store with products for hunting, camping, emergency preparedness, and survival gear

    Sorry, but I can't remember the location where I got the bindings from, but they are not the same ones that Coleman's offers. U.S. G.I. Ski Bindings - $9.95 :: Colemans Military Surplus LLC - Your one-stop US and European Army/Navy surplus store with products for hunting, camping, emergency preparedness, and survival gear The ones they have are older, but would still work, and the pre-drilled holes in the skis are made for them. Just use the hole you need and fill the rest in with epoxy- don't let water get in there!

    Another good place to get quality used ski gear from is Galactic Snow Sports- Galactic Snow Sports - Used skis from: $39; Used snowboards: $29.99; Used ski boots: $19; Used snowboard boots: $29 I bought Mrs. Gunbunny a complete set of used Alpine skis from them for $75 shipped. She uses them on the slopes, or sometimes I will use them on the slopes if I want to jump and play around like an idiot, or I'm trying to teach my little bunnies and don't want them running over my expensive skis.

    All you would need would be a set of poles and you could have a decent entry level set of xc skis for less than $50!

    Basically, if you are not experienced, think of x-c skis as big snowshoes. You will just walk with them on, and stay above the majority of the snow. You will slide your feet when you walk, but it is very intuitive.

    Learn to stop before you do anything. Always keep your skis as parallel to the mountain as possible when traveling or stopped. It will keep you from speeding up. NEVER cross your skis, you will just become a gravity powdered missile with no control.

    You stop by keeping the tips close together, and spreading the skis apart- making a wedge. This creates a tremendous amount to friction. Always keep your downward edges up, or they will grab and make you fall.

    Turns are made by applying all of your weight to the OUTSIDE ski for the direction of travel wanted. If you want to make a right hand turn when facing downhill, you put your weight on the LEFT ski. In cross country skiing, you keep the inside ski behind the outside, and bend at the knee like you are doing lunges. Your outside ski will have the ability to send you through a turn. Recover by applying your weight evenly to your skis, which by that time should be parallel and even with each other.

    Some little points to always remember- keep your weight on the front of your ski. If you leave it drift behind, your skis will not turn where you want them, and basically becomes a sled/luge. IF the terrain is steep, make a bunch of quick, tight turns with a lot of traversing between them. That helps take the steepness out of the terrain.

    Here, you can really see the clips holding the skins to the ski tip. The little nylon loop is there as a pull tab to help attach or remove the skins.


    One very important point- start your journey out wearing as little as you can stand. You will sweat, as X-C skiing is work, even though you may only feel like you are walking. In the cold, if you sweat, you will freeze the moment you stop moving! Change your clothes or wear wool. From the picture above, my pants have thigh vents in them, you can see one on my right knee; the dark spot is a mesh than can be zippered shut.


    That stuff on my temples and beard is FROST. If I wasn't going in a big circle, close to home, I would have to take a complete set of clothes along with me to dry overnight (and freeze solid while doing so) including underwear. And yes, that is a Glock 21 on my right hip...


    All zipped back up and ready for the short trip back down the mountain. This is what I ski for- free snow! It's not groomed, man-made loose granular snow that is found on the slopes for big buck lift tickets. I'd rather spend my money on other things.

    Just a side note- I'm wearing three layers and it was 15 degrees out (no wind, luckily). A base layer of polyester, a mid layer of fleece, and an outer jacket of water resistant/breathable nylon material. Oddly enough when in the dark, the white nylon seems to light up like a neon sign. I would have never expected that to happen. My fleece jacket and ski pants are slightly off-white, but actually blend in much better.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2014
    stg58, hank2222, Hammerhead and 7 others like this.
  2. cdnboy66

    cdnboy66 Monkey++

    Cool post, Thanks
  3. hank2222

    hank2222 Monkey+++

    Thanks for the info on the subect
  4. gunbunny

    gunbunny Never Trust A Bunny

    I started getting the idea back in the March 3rd blizzard of 1993 that my downhill (now called alpine) skis were completely inadequate for cross country travel. From that point on, I started to dabble with different equipment and ideas until I reached a solution that worked for me.

    The ten foot deep drifts were like the walls of a fortress; I couldn't climb them with my equipment, all I could do was run the perimeter until I found a spot that was low enough for me to cross. I tried walking without the skis, and was up to my waist in powder and having to dig my way across fields and unpaved roads.

    My downhill skis weren't really any good on anything except groomed slopes. Even skiing across a flat, open field was exhausting because of the fixed boot positions and the inability to skate because of the powder. With the downhill bindings, all I could manage with each stride was about 6-12 inches from each foot, and no momentum carried. If I tried to stretch it out further, the immobility of the downhill boot would cause great pain in my ankles.

    Having learned solely on loose granular pack, I was completely unaware of what it was like trying to ski in powder. Even going downhill was hard the first couple of times until I read up on my technique and practiced when possible. You learn to hop a little when initiating turns, to get the tips up and out of the powder. It's even worse when there's a frozen crust layer on top that traps your skis underneath and doesn't allow for easy turns. One has to power through this "crud".

    I thought I knew it all after having taken multiple (8 lesson package) ski lessons the previous two years when in high school in the ski club. That is a very dangerous attitude. I was completely unprepared for travel. A simple three mile trek took me all day, and I was so sweaty that if I hadn't made it before dark, I would have easily frozen to death if isolated. I learned a lot that day.

    Back to the present day, I was talking to a ski racer on the way up the hill on the double chair once. He was asking me why I wasn't racing that night. I told him about my setup and what it was for. He laughed at the idea of using alpine boots when going cross country. I believe he only thought in terms of racing- must go everywhere faster than everyone else... Obviously, from the pictures above, I have the last laugh; as they operate the way they are supposed to and I can get all around.
  5. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    The skis of today are totally different then the skis of four decades ago. I wouldn't get on my Head Downhill competition Skis and try to even match my worst Run on them, from back in that Day. First they are way to long, compared to what they use today, and way to stiff. The bindings are much more forgiving now, then the ones on mine old Skis. I also have NO BUSINESS strapping on a pair of skis these days, as I would in all likelyhood, break my neck even on a Bunny Hill... However, I can still dream, and remember those long ago Days, of my youth....
    VisuTrac, kellory and tulianr like this.
  6. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    I'm still an old fart & in the way !
    I have skied since 4 yo , down hill with cable bindings on shoe adapters & cross country with a similar setup way back then in the 50-60s. Just a little time ago I took my downhill boards up for a few runs , many have never seen such old boards , & because its a stature sport , I got heckled .. Nitwits , thankfully they don't like top of the black diamond area .Got asked many different questions from the high black crowd . Horseman Hut for a few beers gents :) .I no longer ski for anything but pleasure , been there - done it.

    And for travelling on the boards , I use fish scale cross country type , they still need waxing but are better for us around sea level to 2000 feet , Up the mountains I use Non fish scale / Wax only type .

    The best family skiing is all being together and enjoying that time , make it adorable fun that is inexpensive as possible. Seen many a great skier that was not a florescent billboard with trademarks..

    Slippery Sloth
    gunbunny and kellory like this.
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