The Nordic ski, light and skinny, is worn with a special boot held in a toe binding that leaves the heel free (fig. 12-1 la). Depending on the design
Fig. 12-10. Adjustable-length ski poles that can be fastened together to create an avalanche probe and purpose of the ski, it may be referred to as a cross-country, touring, or telemark ski. Because the heel is not attached, Nordic skiers need the special skill of telemark turning for going downhill.
Ski mountaineering employs a wider, heavier ski (sometimes called a randonee ski) that is closer to a traditional alpine (downhill) ski (fig. 12-1 lb). It has a binding that leaves the heel free for uphill travel but can secure the heel for standard downhill technique. Special boots are sold for use with mountaineering skis, though plastic mountaineering boots are often adequate.
Both kinds of skis will get you into the back-country in winter for touring or mountain approaches. To provide uphill traction, both are used with removable climbing skins, in a textured material known as nylon plush, that adhere to the bottom of the skis (fig. 12-1 lc).
If you're accustomed to using only boots or snowshoes for backcountry snow travel, you may find certain disadvantages to skis. During the times you have to pack them, there's extra weight. It's difficult to self-arrest on steep slopes, though self-arrest grips on your ski poles can help. The skis are awkward on rocky or forested snow slopes; skiing can be difficult if you have a heavy pack; and
you'll need a well-matched party in terms of skiing ability in order to keep a steady pace, especially for roped glacier travel.
But after all is said and done, skis are undeniably easier and faster for basic snow travel. They are giving more and more mountaineers a way to get to areas they couldn't readily reach before and to travel at more times of the year. Skis also can offer a safety bonus for crevasse crossings because with your weight distributed over a wider area, there is less danger of breaking through. They can also come in handy for rescue work, converting into a makeshift stretcher or sled.
Backcountry ski travel is a complex activity, with special techniques and equipment. For detailed information, take a look at articles or books devoted to the subject.
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