The Lost and Found Art of the Cross Country Ski Touring

The Lost and Found Art of Cross Country Ski Touring

By January 3, 2017January 21st, 2017Featured, Nordic & Cross-Country

cross country skiing on christmas day

The Cross Country Ski Tour is a Wonderful Thing

Lately, I’ve talked with several customers who begin our conversation by saying, “My cross country equipment is old, really old. I’ve got those old three pin binding and my boots have those square shaped toes.” I’m thinking to myself that, yes, I believe their gear could be old but the style sure isn’t.

Right about then I hand them the Alpina Alaska 75mm boot, the Crispi Mountain 3-pin boot, and show them our display board mounted with three choices of 3 pin bindings. The surprise on their faces is pretty darn fun. “My gosh, they still make this stuff? I thought it was long gone.”

What comes around goes around and comes back around. At Ski Haus, we’re seeing a nice return to backcountry cross country ski touring. And the news is lots of folks (me included) have returned to the Nordic Norm 75mm soled boot and ageless 3 pin binding system.

I know there are skiers out there who have a longer history on skis than me. I know these folks can tour and turn circles around me until I’m dizzy but my story is not so different than theirs. My first 3 pin set up was a pair of very narrow and very long 215cm Rossignol Randonee XC skis with 3 pin bindings and the venerable Asolo Extreme black leather boot.

My buddies and me skied that gear everywhere, from bumps on Whiteout in the Steamboat Ski Area to long tours off Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Passes. We toured, and hiked, and turned those skis like crazy.

That gear evolved, slowly, until Scarpa came out with the original and aptly named Terminator telemark boots. It didn’t take long for the Terminator to kill the 75mm soled black leather boot market. Tired of our leather boots breaking right about the time they started feeling and skiing their best – the boot’s midsole usually broke right behind the pin holes – skiers flocked to the hard shell telemark boots in droves.

We didn’t realize it at them time but we were paying a weight penalty with those powerful plastic shelled boots and ever widening fat skis. But who cared? We were ripping tight lines, b-lining it to backcountry slopes and harvesting powder like it was nobody’s business.

But something happened along the way. A little light dawned in the minds of many cross country skiers. Why am I skiing all this heavy gear? What happened to my light skis and boots where I could go explore and tour with a nice fluid motion and cover long distance without taking along a ball and chain?

Re-enter the 3 pin set-up. One of my favorite cross country boots is the Alpina Alaska 75. I’ve resurrected a few of my old skinny 205cm skis that are mounted with 3 pin bindings or the old Rotteffella Riva cable bindings. I’m touring fast and light again. I have skis that actually glide after I’ve set my kick. I’m skiing the very same slopes we skied while armored up in plastic and find myself smiling for no other reason than I’ve come full circle.

I’m back to a light ski and boot. I feel like I can tour with a very fluid motion. The equipment isn’t reducing my tour to a shuffle. And when it comes time to make some turns? Easy.

I’ve returned to my skiing roots and it feels really, really good.

6 Comments

  • Bob says:

    Great essay Murray, I favor this type of ski touring or “light” telemark as well. Skis are much lighter and better flexing than they were in 1990, so it’s easier than every to get on a ski that floats and turns well and control it with leather boots like the Alaska or even better Crispi Antarctic. Touring skis from Fischer, Madshus, and Asnes are practically feather weight compared to 1991 Tuas. Tips are now rockered to help start turns too.

    The other thing that’s happened is that if you want the support of stiff plastic boots and heavy, wide skis today you’ll probably choose an AT setup, might as well get the full power of having your heel locked on the descent.

    • Murray Selleck says:

      Thanks for your comments, Bob. I agree with your thoughts along with the AT suggestion. Ski Haus sells a ton of Alpine Touring skis, boots, and bindings. There is a huge wave of interest in this kind of setup and several of our staff members are all in with AT. Personally, I still go back to the fluid motion that a 75mm or NNN BC set up gives a skier on both the tour and turn. But then again, the right tool for the right job, applies to all kind of situations including skiing, snowpack, and terrain. I guess that is why most of us still don’t own enough skis! Murray

  • Peter Farmer says:

    Murray, I’m a big fan of skinny skis (such as my venerable Fischer Silent Spider 62s) and have to control my smirks as I’ve see my friends fork out the dollars for heavier gear. They struggle on our treks in the Sierras, which I’d characterize as “backcounty with a small b.” However, it seems thy still believe sales pitch they heard when they bought them, rather than trusting their own experience—ha!

    However, I’ll stick to the NNN BC system over 75mm. The 3-pins do have an old-school (hipster?) appeal, but I see no advantage, and they do have the disadvantage you’ve noted: premature cracking of the sole.

    • Murray Selleck says:

      Hi Peter, Thanks for your note and keep on with the fun smirks. Your buddies will get the idea eventually. I am a fan of both the NNN BC systems and 3pin systems. In very broad and basic terms we try to sell either system on a skier’s preference of touring versus turning. We suggest the NNN BC system to those who give the tour and distance the preference to their ski day and we suggest the 3 pin setup to those who give downhill control and turning the preference to their ski day. This is absolutely splitting eyelash hairs since I know you can make turns with the NNN BC and I know you can tour just fine with the 3pin. We make this suggestion when someone really can’t decide between the two or they haven’t developed a preference yet. We know both systems cross over and overlap one another considering design and intent. XC skiing is certainly made up of very subtle nuances of weight, glide, kick, floatation, touring, and turning. Matching gear to those expectations and getting it right for each individual skier is a fun challenge.

      The subtle advantage we see with the 3pin system in turning is the boot/binding interface. There is more boot sole contact with the binding on a 3pin. The sidewall of the bindings and the metal that clamps over the top of the pins grab more boot sole. Perhaps that equates to a bit more muscle or control over the ski versus the NNN BC boot sole with its toe bar connecting with the control arm area of NNN BC binding. The premature boot sole cracking certainly was an issue with the black leather Norwegian welt boots. Today’s 3pin sole (in most cases) don’t have the layers of vibram and midsole – they’re typically a single layer of material (and knock on wood) I haven’t had any issues with my Alpina Alaska 75mm boots to date. I’ll keep you posted if I do!

      Thanks again for your note. Write back anytime and have a terrific winter in the Sierras. I can’t wait! – Murray
      P.S Sorry if I got too wordy and certainly there is no intent to preach… Long live XC!

  • Eric says:

    Thanks for a great article. I learned to XC in Utah, later worked for several ski resorts and found myself using alpine touring gear like everyone else, only to find myself missing the fluidity of touring on light tele gear. I’ve been using a 3-pin 75mm binding now for the past 5 years and loving it.

    Touring the backcountry on BC skis opens up vast areas to explore. Long live XC!

    • Murray Selleck says:

      Hi Eric,
      Thanks for your comments… Long live XC! I was just up on Rabbit Ears Pass a few days back and it was glorious! Fresh snow, beautiful vistas, no crowds, peaceful and quiet. Long live XC! Murray

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