Monday, March 9, 2015

Thoughts and Reflections on my First Ever AT Ski Set-up

By Vadim Fedorovsky

This winter was the first time I got back on skis since 2000. I have been snowboarding since then but now I am back on two planks. A few years ago, I decided that if and when I went back to the skis, I would definitely get an alpine touring (AT) set-up. An AT set-up is simply skis, boots, and bindings that allow the skier to both climb and descend.

It's really an amazing concept! Ski down your favorite backcountry run, switch your AT bindings to "climbing mode", throw your skins on, and climb back up to do it all over again! AT is really the perfect marriage of nordic skiing and downhill skiing. No need to can now do both on the same set of planks!

If you don't know what I mean by skins, these are a layer of material, cut specifically to the length of your skis, which you attach to give you grip when climbing up a hill. Once you get to the top, you simply remove them, stow them in your backpack or jacket, and descend down your favorite run. No more ski lift needed!

I did A LOT of research before I decided to buy what I got and I suggest you do the same. The main things to consider are:

1. How much are you willing to spend - have a budget.
2. How much downhill compared to uphill use do you expect - since I live on the East coast (where we are mostly limited to resort skiing when compared to the abundance of backcountry areas out west), I will use mine for at least 50% downhill, and likely more. Thus I didn't need my set-up, especially my boots, to be overly light and flexible since I would require some stiffness for the in bounds downhill runs.


I went with the Vector skis made by Voile in a size 180. I didn't get the BC version because I didn't want the fish scale base patterns to slow me down on the groomer descents. I chose these skis for two reasons: 

1. I consulted Shawn Forry and Justin Lichter on what they were currently using to complete their amazing winter thru hike of the PCT. They both responded: the Vector

2. In addition to Forry and Lichter's recommendation, the Vector had very positive reviews in general

3. I fell in love with the art - on a long tour of looking down at your skis for hours, it's important (at least for a visual person like myself) to like their appearance 

This is the 2013 Vector. I got the 2013 version on purpose because the 2014 art is extremely bland.


This was probably the simplest part of my buying decisions. I knew I wanted tech bindings, I knew I didn't want to spend more than $300, and I knew I wanted them to be lightweight. The choice was obvious: the Dynafit TLT Speed Turn 

The TLT Speed Turn is a low priced light weight tech binding from Dynafit.


This was probably one of the hardest parts of the decision making process. With anything footwear related, I always prioritize comfort: before anything else, be it appearance or features, the shoe or boot MUST fit my foot comfortably. I went with the Scarpa Maestraele GT. While it isn't the lightest boot on the market (at a little over 4 lbs a boot), the comparatively low price and fit won me over. Plus the weight and stiffness will not be a problem on the downhills where I think it will provide a more "classic alpine feel".

Alpine touring boots like the Maestrale GT have a Vibram sole on the bottom for hiking during long tours.

Poles & Skins

In keeping with the theme of going as cheap as reasonably possible, I went with the Cascade Mountain Tech adjustable carbon fiber poles. At only $40 these are a hell of a deal for carbon fiber poles. They are available at Costco as well as online. I went with adjustable poles so that I could change the lengths depending on what I am doing - for rolling terrain and climbing, I want a longer pole, for downhill I can adjust them down to a shorter length so they will stay out of my way. Cascade Mountain Tech makes them in two varieties: twist lock or locking lever. I went with the locking lever because they are known to be far superior at withstanding use and debris which will inevitably enter into the shaft. My only complaint is I wish that Cascade Mountain Tech would put the same cork style handle on the locking lever poles as they do on the twist lock poles. Regardless, if you are looking for a cheap and decent set of very lightweight hiking/skiing poles, check out these poles! You cannot beat $40! 

Not much to say about the choice of skins I got. I simply went with a popular and trusted model, the Black Diamond Ascension Custom STS skins. As often needed, the skins will require trimming to customize them to the size skis I have. To make this process easier I got the G3 Trim Tool. It comes standard with G3 skins but I heard it was a lot better than the Black Diamond tool. 


As always, I like to focus on getting the gear I need to meet my outdoor objectives without breaking the bank. It isn't uncommon for a AT set-up to cost as high as 1500 to 2000 dollars. Ouch! By shopping second hand as well as sales, I believe I met my cost effective standards. Let's take a look at how much everything cost all together. 

Skis including shipping- $380 (second hand bought on craigslist. I had to convince the seller who I found on craigslist Boulder to ship them to me. Luckily he was a nice guy. It's very rare to find backcountry skis on craiglists that are not out west.) 

Boots - $259.46

Bindings - $212.77

Poles - $40

Skins with cutting tool - $97.75

Shop fee for binding mount - $41

Total Expenses: $1,030.98

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Setting a Course

Orienteering is the ultimate navigation sport.

Competitors must use a very detailed map (for example-showing 2 foot high boulders) to find checkpoints along a mapped course.  Once an athlete can succesfully complete beginner and intermediate courses they start the journey on the advanced level courses.  An advanced level course requires woods running, endurance, speed, compass work, contouring, and route choice.  It is the ultimate test of pushing your physical and mental limits.

That said, some people just come out for a hike in the woods.

Another aspect of the orienteering community is that we are building the sport.  It is completely volunteer driven and non-profit.  Each week in the spring and fall, Delaware Valley Orienteering Association puts on an event.

The past three years (2012, 2013, 2014) I was the course setter for an event at Antietam Lake Park (Mt. Penn) near Reading, PA the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The event takes several months of work scouting the land, verifying all of the checkpoints, seeing what would make a good challenge, and preparing the maps.  I even did some of my own mapping- adding all of the trail building, much by the local mountain bikers.  If you want to get good at navigating quickly, or just like the idea of running in the woods, orienteering is the sport for you.

If you go to this site you can see all of the courses and even some competitors routes: RouteGadget! .

And the results: Results!

Here are some highlights:

The end of the long leg #6 on the long advanced course.  Reaching the checkpoint required good skill in reading contours and rock detail.

This checkpoint was a boulder only a couple feet tall.  Competitors come from the other side of the boulder so that the flag is blocked, having the navigator see the feature (boulder) before the flag.

Pat running the edge of the pond at the Fruit Farm before finishing the course:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Cruising the Sods (mostly)

Hey east coasters do yourself a favor and check out Dolly Sods Wilderness. It's an easily accessible rocky, high altitude plateau nestled in northeast West Virginia.

I am hoping Erik will make another post soon with maps, gps coordinates, and finer details. Below will be the fun story time post to read by your fireplace...

On this last visit, Erik and I had the off trail bug...our hopes were to sate our constant empty bottle love for adventure as well as hone our navigation skills. The unique landscape of Dolly Sods (the sods from here on out) makes it a great east coast location to go off trail: tons of meadows, mossy bogs, and long distance least on clear days, that is. The sods is a refreshing piece of open country compared to the otherwise dense forests of the eastern US. It's truly a gem. 

As is common for fall in the northeast, our two days were spent wandering in a thick fog with on and off rain and very high humidity.

See above the visibility was pretty low compared to this picture below of the sods on a much more clear day:

We started our two day adventure by taking a compass bearing of a creek near the trail head. Our plan was to follow the creek as long as we could and then make our way up one of the many 3,500' to 4,000' mountains. We soon found our creek and quickly came to an open meadow making for what we thought would be great travel...

It didn't take long for us to realize that off trail excursions are marked by quickly changing highs and lows. One moment we'd be struggling through thick woods trying desperately to keep tree branches from poking our precious eyes; another moment we'd be high fiving and celebrating our discovery of some fast and smooth travel through an open field or game trail. 

The mossy bogs proved to be extremely wet and energy sucking so we decided to swiftly make for higher ground. Although it wasn't part of our originally planned route, this was a great idea as it successfully started our big push of the first day. Once we crossed a swollen creek we excitedly started up a mountain I had pointed to with my usual exclamation of, "that one, let's go up that one, Erik!" 

The colors of the leaves mixed with the ominous fog made for countless scenes of fall eye candy.

Travel during the ascent was mostly fast and extremely easy to keep our bearing. Towards the top though, nearing our destination of a trail intersection, the vegetation did get pretty hairy. My merino wool gloves really came in handy in these sections since all the shrubbery saturated with cold water was rubbing against my hands nonstop. We pushed on in high spirits because it was nearing dinner time. Although we had only about 8 miles under our belt, off trail travel takes plenty of physical/mental energy. Notably in the sods is the super energy sucking sphagnum moss. 

Needless to say we were ready to quickly gobble up a warm meal, find a campsite, and get some rest inside of our dry sleeping bags. Once the noodles were eaten, the pots cleaned, the tent pitched, we quickly fell into a deep sleep (after the usual tent chit chat which solitude seems to always bring out, of course).  

Having camped pretty close to the trail where we finished the previous day, we started our final day walking along the beaten path. As usual, it didn't take much trail walking for me to convince Erik it was time to once again enter the backcountry. 

The characteristic meadows of the sods seen here made for great morning travel on our second day.

Per usual, the terrain was regularly switching between wet meadows and semi dense to very dense forest with occasional game trails to pass through. Eventually though the woods got very thick and almost impassable in some areas, at least without much frustration and stuck limbs between hundreds of pointy, tangled branches. 

As our patience with the slow travel continued to dwindle, we solidified our off trail lesson for the day: when the vegetation gets extremely thick (as in almost impassable in any reasonable amount of time), head down in elevation so long as your route allows for it. Vegetation grows far thicker on these forested plateaus. And sure enough, as soon as we started heading down in elevation, we were elated to see the woods clearing enough to increase speed and boost morale again. 

After finding out target, a creek with a bitchin' waterfall (Erik will tell you the name in his next post), we decided it was about that time to be getting home. We used the established trails to quickly finish our adventure and made our way back to the car. 

It was a great little adventure and left me hungering for my next visit to navigate the lovely sods. 

Quick recap of off trail lessons learned on this trip:

1. UPs and DOWNs are characteristic of off trail travel...and I don't mean just the elevation. It's important to do anything and everything to maintain positive morale! 

2. Gloves are ESSENTIAL, especially in wet and cold conditions.

3. When the going gets hairy, thick, and tough...go down in elevation so long as you can stay on course to your destination. 

Until next time...cheers!

~Vadim Fedorovsky 
Day 1 Maps:

Day 2 (except for that boring trail stuff):