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Avalanche Skills Training - on skiboards

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  • Avalanche Skills Training - on skiboards

    I took Avalanche Canada's AST1+ course this past weekend.

    There was a bit of classroom learning, but the bulk of the course was taught on the snow, out in the back (or side) country.

    This was the first time I'd actually used my softboot touring setup with skins, so it was an interesting day. The course instructor was predictably skeptical - but he was happy to go along with it, I think as I'd clearly put a lot of thought and resources into the setup, and he was a bit curious as to how it would turn out...

    I'd bought the longest, widest skins I could find, and cut them in half - so covered 2 sets of boards with 1 set of skins. The nose loops were no where near big enough, though - so I had to construct some much larger ones from scratch. I did this with some metal fishing (shark) wire, some aluminium tubing, and a lot of epoxy, which seemed to do the trick.

    Attaching the nose loops was also a problem - the skins were designed to be folded over the nose loop, and (presumably) stay in place with the glue-glue contact. I didn't have enough skin left to fold it over itself - so attached the nose loop with some heavy-duty ripstop, contact cement, and two metal rivets.

    Here's the RC's, with the skins fitted - near the top of Backcomb mountain (disease ridge):

    The softboot touring setup also worked - actually quite well. Better than some of the gear others on the course were using, at least. I was initially worried about the metal-metal contact on the heel, so I'd glued small rubber pads to the impact points. These almost immediately came off, but after two days of touring it didn't seem to be a problem.

    There are two small design flaws with this system. They didn't stop me from touring, and I could probably live with them - but they are flaws I genuinely wouldn't have spotted until I'd actually skinned up a mountain:

    Flaw 1:
    The toe of the softboot protrudes slightly in front of the dynafit (pin binding) holes on the toe. This means that if you pivot around the toe binding more than 100deg or so, the front of the boot presses on the lever of the binding, and the toe releases.
    This isn't THAT much of an issue, as you very rarely need to pivot your foot forward that much - but it means that you can't fully kneel down without the binding popping out. I could try to sell this as a good thing, since it would make the boards relatively easy to jettison if you actually got caught in a avalanche, but it's a bug rather than a feature.

    This leads on to:

    Flaw 2:
    The ultralight bindings are very impressive bits of engineering - but they are definitely quite minimalist. One of the things they lack is an easy switch between 'flat touring' and 'uphill', as well as only having one height for uphill travel. The entire heel piece needs to be rotated by 90deg, which is almost impossible to do with a ski pole whilst standing. One way to do it would be to kneel down on one knee, and reach behind to rotate the heel piece by hand. Unfortunately, this is how I discovered flaw #1 - I knelt down to switch to flat touring mode, and popped both toes out of the bindings.


    Things that worked:

    >Rockered Condors are amazing in the backcountry. It was a beginner-level backcountry group, but I had no trouble keeping up - or staying ahead - on the RCs. The powder wasn't very deep (knee deep at most), but I had no problem with the decent either.

    >The bindings + board + softboot combination is light - a LOT lighter than a touring setup designed for regular ski boots, and compatible with some of the high-end performance touring combinations.

    >The skins worked. Obviously they are brand new, so still sticky and clean. A lot of the group had problems with snow packing in between the skins and the skis, and the skis eventually 'sliding off' the skins entirely. The RCs are so wide that even with snow packed a few cm under each side of the skin, there was still plenty of glue-board contact in the center.

    >The instructor expressed concern (predictably) about the lack of board length underfoot, particularly when skinning up very steep slopes. I think because the most important part of the skin is the bit right underfoot - and the boards are so wide - this didn't turn out to be a problem at all. There was no point when I couldn't make a slope, and the other members of the party could - seemed to be roughly comparable in terms of performance to any of the other touring gear on show, some of it quite high end.

    >New views! (This is from the back of Mt. Seymour on the first day of the course - you can't see any of this from the inbound runs)

    I'd crashed an Arc'teryx course, so everyone in the image, including the guide, is in head-to-toe Arc'teryx - gloves, packs, jackets, hats - the works!


    Things to improve for the future:

    >Don't go as minimalist on the binding. A chunkier set of G3's wouldn't have added that much weight, and would have multiple levels of heel raise, as well as a toe binding that's easier to line up to the boot.

    >Move the toe pin mounts further forward - the boot should be able to rotate over the binding until your knee is resting of the board without releasing

    >Think about crampon mounts. I didn't need them - and no-one else on the course had any - but I hadn't considered how to mount crampons. There are lots of options - both the RC boards themselves, the RTK pin binding AND the blaze split board binding have some kind of crampon mount, but I hadn't designed the binding with any of them in mind.


    Overall, it was an interesting experience - both in terms of learning, and in getting out in (almost) legit backcountry for the first time.

    I'm not sure it's going to be something I do very often - 2 hrs trekking up for 6 mins of powder isn't a great ratio, and a reminder that we invented chairlifts for a reason! But it's great that I know have the option, a tiny bit of BC knowledge, and some gear that (in most cases) seems pretty reliable.

  • #2
    Very nice report Scribbler and very nice work on your binding , I use the RC in the backcountry with soft boots and it works great , I am not sure your binding would interfere with the extra inserts on the RC for crampons , but I did work out a crampon mount system with those inserts and commercially availble Mr Chomps crampons from Sparks
    see link below
    see post #14 on this link
    Boards :

    K2 BFC 100

    Zero Pro Non release Binding
    Modified Receptor Backcountry Bindings (Bill Version and Slow Version)
    Spruce ProPrime Plus Binding/Riser with Attack 13 GW binding
    Custom Risers with Fritschi Backcountry Bindings (Jeff Singer version 1, Bill version)


    • #3
      Great Views from the back of Seymore

      Hey - great job with the AST course. Highly valuable info there!
      I did some backcountry poaching off the Cypress lifts on downhill binding (carried avalanche beacon as all the new snow is still unstable). Had a magnificent day. (that's the entrance to tony baker gully).
      That said, I think of ski-touring as a winter hiking with a really fun and quick way to get back to the highway.
      Here's a Pano just beyond the skychair -

      My backcountry skiboard rig is ready. -- do you have a shovel/probe/beacon ? Know any other BC skiboarders?
      Last edited by joni; 02-07-2017, 04:22 PM. Reason: add image


      • #4
        Gratuitous Backcountry Photos

        Can't help myself posting some more of this magnificent day -

        THIS is the reason to learn backcountry!

        note the lack of tracks