Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preparing for Snow...

If there's a two-inch or more snowfall, you can bet I'll be out on the skis, having a blast scooting up and down hills, panting my lungs out from the exertion of the first winter workout.

As the season progresses, I'll be in better shape, and when there's enough snow, ready to take on the winter in more exciting ways.

Two of those are skis and snowshoes- each with distinct advantages and disadvantages for people interested in traveling over snow with the utmost ease. (We won't discuss snowmobiles here- tho my interest in them is pretty limited. I've owned several but always manage to end up on skis and 'shoes.)

Pictured are my snowshoes- nearly five feet long,and my all maple skis- the kind our esteemed Uncle used to issue his troops in Alaska and such places. (They're solid wood and need spacers to maintain the 'camber' over a hot, steamy summer, hence the blocks between them.) These skis are solid bottom, need tarring and waxing to get the most benefit from. I've used them for years- my first real introduction to cross country skiing came through these, but they are heavy and not very forgiving on moguls (bumps in the trail), but they are tough-tough.

Pictured here are my son's 'waxless' skis. Note the scale-y base. Made to not need waxes to perform properly, they're quick, light and agile. However, better performance can be had by putting an appropriate wax on them. (Left of the blue bases are a ski pole and the base of my maple ski- the black is caused by the tar application. Tape is wrapped around the bamboo pole to aid in preventing splits/cracks, several coats of varnish help as well.)

A word about waxes (for those uninitiated to skiing): wax is formulated for differing snow/air temperatures and conditions. (The purpose of wax is to give a somewhat better 'grip' on the snow- and it is very noticeable the first time the wrong wax is used.) Blue, a soft wax, is used for damp, soft snow conditions such as early winter/fall and spring conditions. For 'warm' cold snow/air temps- e.g. 10 degrees above to zero, a green or purple, sometimes red, can be used. For extremely cold- ten below and colder, I and many others, like to apply paraffin wax: it's really hard, grips those sharp cold crystals extremely well and is lots cheaper than 'ski' waxes.

Bindings on your skis is going to make a difference in your footwear. Pictured are the 75mm 'Nordic Norm' bindings that were once de-rigguer for cross country skis. Today, bindings can be found as narrow as 25mm for racing kick-skiing- what you'll see on the Olympic skiers and other racers. However, for our purposes- SHTF scenarios, we want to do away with those fragile little bindings, and, if possible, the ski boots as well.

What we're going to want for SHTF is a boot and binding that will serve multiple purposes and that excludes the sporty, colorful, narrow, low-topped ski boot racers and casual tourers use. In my estimation, the least acceptable is the 75mm Nordic Norm, anything less is a waste of our time, talent, money and possibly our lives. Ideally we would have the oldest bindings available: cable bindings. These are 'production versions of the oldest made- leather strings. A cable binding is just that: a cable with an adjustable clamp that will bond foot to ski yet 'break away' easily in emergencies- such as falls or tumbles and you want the ski to get off the foot fast to prevent broken bones, twisted ankles and ruined knees. (A fast word or two about technique: don't worry about yours. The more you do it, the better it gets. Think 'long loping stride' as you ski, pause on each foot as it goes forward before 'kicking' the back foot forward. Swing arms alternately as in walking, and really dig those poles in to get a burst of forward thrust as you kick. Ideally, you'll learn to ski without poles, then add them for increased power/speed/control as your ability increases. And don't be afraid to fall- even Olympians fall, nothing new there- we people have been falling for thousands of years. Usually on our noses, too.)

Back to bindings...I think the wine makes me digress...brb, getting another glass... oh, yes- bindings. Ummm...boots, rather. I can't find my cable bindings (put ugly crying face here) so I've got to tear the shop apart to get pix. Nor did I get shots of my (smelly) boots (more ugly crying face) so words will have to suffice. The boots we're looking at will be similar to six or eight-inch topped hiking boots. The next time you're shopping, look at the hiking boots you see: if they're 'genuine' mountain type of boots (read: real honest hiking boots) they'll have a groove cut around the heel about 1/4 inch wide and deep. Also the toe area will have slight slots or notches along both outside/inside edges. These are a throwback to the age when men and women actually did such things as adventures and used skis in winter. They're put there for cable bindings. And they work exceedingly well. More direct and use-specific are the real ski boots with both cable and pin (clamp) binding marks. I opt for these in my 'normal' skiing: boots about six inches high and a 'gaiter' on over them. (A 'gaiter' is a sleeve that fits over your calf area, is waterproof material, aids in keeping leg cramps away as well as snow off the leg and out of the boot, keeping the lower leg and feet dry. Therefore, gaiters are valuable life-saving devices.)

Ski poles make great walking sticks! It used to be the length of a person's pole was measured from the armpit to the ground. Times change, however- now the fad is to get as long as you can handle. My preference is armpit cuz I'm used to it. 'Nuff said. I also prefer bamboo- I've been using the same pair of poles thirty or more years and have yet to break one. My son uses aluminum and has broken several pair. Of course, it can be said he is a more 'enthusiastic' skier than I. Still, I've tumbled down hills, straddled trees (honestly- just like the cartoons) and used them in summer as walking sticks and they are still serviceable. However- I do have a back-up pair. Soon as I bought them, I wrapped five loops of electrical tape between each joint- very tightly- and put three coats of varnish on them. Note the poles across my 'shoes. They are great for balance and pushing brush aside or banging snow off branches before ducking under them.

Onward and ahead to snowshoes now. Notice in the first picture how long the 'shoes are. My skis are 6'11". Those are long snowshoes and thus for a reason: better travel on deep snow.

All things being equal, a ski will sink deeper into the same snow than a good 'shoe and thereby make travel more difficult. Unless you're wearing those small 'bear paw' or 'Sherpa' type 'shoes. Those are made most for hard-packed snow, emergencies and 'gentle recreational' snowshoeing. Oh, they have their purpose in extremely thick brush as well- but that's not much of an advantage over a larger, longer 'shoe. The biggest, and worst, disadvantage of snowshoes is the snow temperature. Early fall and late spring snows are a curse to snowshoeing because it is 'wet' or 'damp' snow. That kind of snow clings and builds under the 'shoe, adding tons and more tons of weight and will burn anyone out fast. (In this kind of snow, nothing beats a ski. Nothing.)

Between the Sherpa and my style is a mid-range known locally as a 'Michigan' or 'trapper' snowshoe. These are more wide than bear paw or my 'Alaskan' type and a bit more difficult to walk in due to needing a wider stance. Their weight holding ability is close to the Alaskan type and far above the bear paw.

The bindings on my 'shoes are nylon webbing, which replaced the green leather bindings after some mice discovered how wonderful that un-tanned leather tastes. I'm not really 'fond' of these bindings, but they do work. I've long been considering finding a truck inner tube and cutting my own bindings but haven't got the ambition yet. Friends of mine have such (rubber-tube) bindings on their 'shoes and swear by them when I'm usually swearing at mine. (I'll post pics in a future episode.)

In my experience, a snowshoe wearer can carry a heavier load than a skier- but not as quickly. Too, snowshoes take a bit of practice and muscle strengthening that will only come from using them, ditto with skis. As to pulling toboggans with loads and using skis or snowshoes- the choice is yours, though I'd opt for the 'shoes if the snow conditions were perfect for them.

In conclusion: let's think now, while we still have opportunity, about what/how we're going to use as traveling techniques in a grid-down, full SHTF situation. Most likely, 'shoes and skis can be had now at summer prices. After the first snow-fall? Sky's the limit, is my guess. Good snowshoes have always been expensive due to the labor intensive construction- and rightly so, IMO. Shy away from those nylon-webbed critters, or worse yet, those pseudo-leather stitched shoes: they'll fall apart first time out. Always go for a genuine leather stitched 'shoe. Bindings are a different matter: a 'shoe generally comes with a green colored un-tanned leather binding, and they work. They're traditional and time-tested, but sometimes there are better eggs in the basket. That decision I'll leave to the user.

One final word: yes, I know it's still August and first snow is hopefully a long way off. But we have to consider these things before we need them or we're very likely SOL.

Keep your powder dry, your compass in hand, and an MRE in your pants.


1 comment:

  1. Great looking snow shoes! In my are really get a few inches typicaly no more than 7 -8 max at one time.The winters keep getting less snow just cold as a well diggers !@3!


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