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

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