Pushing the boundaries--The extremes of backcountry skiing

Bruno Schull

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Hey folks,

I think it's interesting and instructive to think about the boundaries of back country skiing...what the very best skiers in the world can do.

It puts everything else in perspective, and in some way it helps us figure our where we fit into skiing, what ski touring means for us, and what equipment might be appropriate.

Just to be clear, I'm not an extreme skier at all...but it's still fascinating to know what the best can do.

On one end of the spectrum is fast, wide open skiing on steep, big mountains

The best example is probably La Liste. Here's the link where you can watch it on Red Bull:
https://www.redbull.com/int-en/films/la-liste
Many people have probably seen this. It's hard to comprehend, really, what Jereme Heitz is doing...he makes it look so effortless. High speed GS style turns on fifty or sixty degree ice faces that you ascend with two ice tools and crampons. One way to get some understanding is watch the way other incredibly experienced skiers, alpinists, and guides descend the same faces...with a series of short, linked hop turns. What Jeremie does is mind blowing.

The sequel will hopefully soon be out, La Liste 2. Here's the trailer:
Jeremie and his partner in crime, Simon Anthamatten, take their game to the 6,000 meter peaks in the Himalaya. Again, hard to comprehend.

Listen to the Blister podcast with Simon about the project, and some gear choices.
https://blisterreview.com/podcasts/...skiing-la-liste-2-the-fwt-gear-choices-ep-158
Considering the turns they are making, the speeds, the forces, the consequences...Simon judged that the best system for him was CAST binding (switching out his light touring bindings on the up for Look Pivots on the down) with Race Plug boots. Yes, heavy, race plug boots to climb up technical alpine 6,000 meters peaks, and ski down. My understanding is that both skiers use mid-width, directional, very strong skis, probably weighing close to 2,000 grams or more. Again, it kind of puts our whole conception of ski touring and touring gear into perspective.

On the other end of the spectrum is extremely technical skiing, in extremely steep terrain.

This game usually requires ropes, anchors, rappels, and so on. I think most of these folks use very light ski mountaineering boots, bindings, and skis. The skis probably weigh around 1,000 or 1,200 grams. In some ways, it hard to even think of it as skiing. The skis are like long, light, stiff, carbon fiber crampons, to step, hop, scrape, and slide down the mountain.

There are many videos out there (do a Google search for "Vivian Bruchez")

I love the videos from Paul Bonhomme. Here's an example:
You can explore the additional videos that appear in the sidebar to get a sense of what he and his contemporaries do in the Alps.

Here's one of my favorites. It's called "J'peux pas sauter là!" which means "I can't jump there!"
Aaaahhhhhhhh...Crazy! Again, again, it's hard to think of that as skiing!

OK folks, that's all I've got right now. Enjoy!!!
 

neonorchid

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Hey folks,

I think it's interesting

Simon judged that the best system for him was CAST binding (switching out his light touring bindings on the up for Look Pivots on the down) with Race Plug boots.

This game usually requires ropes, anchors, rappels, and so on.



Here's one of my favorites. It's called "J'peux pas sauter là!" which means "I can't jump there!"

Aaaahhhhhhhh...Crazy! Again, again, it's hard to think of that as skiing!
It's not skiing, it is called (Ski Mountaineering) Ski Alpinism, I call it "No Amygdalaism" ... and little suprise they aren't doing the no fall zone with mouse trap or transformers toy bindings, they are who the Cast/Look Pivot system is designed for!



 

HardDaysNight

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Here's one of my favorites. It's called "J'peux pas sauter là!" which means "I can't jump there!"
Aaaahhhhhhhh...Crazy! Again, again, it's hard to think of that as skiing!
The only resemblance to skiing is that he has skis attached to his boots. In reality he’d probably be more effective if he didn’t - but that would be mountaineering! :cool:
 

Primoz

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Exactly that is reason why I really don't see point in this, what I'm seeing in "my" mountains. I don't know how it's elsewhere, but last 2 or 3 years, ski touring got super popular around here (Slovenia, Austria, Italy), and of course FB and Instagram don't really help here either. This means everyone, and their dogs, are out there, even if people have no idea about skiing, or mountaineering, or mountains in general. In my home playground, there's few lines that are considered between normal people as super good achievement if you climb them up and ski them down. In reality, lines are graded with III or III+ at most. Something what normal skier can do with one ski in bad snow. But everyone are up there, and on busy sunny Sundays, you can actually see line of 50 people trying to get up that line. But interesting part is watching those people try to get down. From skiing with ice tools in hands to guy who was skiing with ice tool tucked into his backpack's waist belt, just in case if he would slide. Yeah go figure. Noone does a single turn in those 300m and everyone slide down the best way they can, trying to stay alive with ice tools in their hands trying to stop themself.
I might be old and all that, but I still don't see point in this. First it's not skiing, similar to what I personally think about mountaineering with skis attached on feet instead of crampons. For me skiing is skiing...going down making turns, not rappeling ropes, not sliding down the hill trying to stop yourself with ice tool. And when you are scared of your life, I don't really see point of that. It certainly can't be fun, or? Especially when you are scared for your life when trying to stay alive in III line. People ski so much more, like for example Jeremie, so anything I ski, is nothing to brag around, and skiing down some easy line that hardly qualifies for grade is definitely not sometning to brag around. So if nothing else, watching some of Jeremie's movies is good for your own ego, to see that there's no need to push some stuff that's above your limits, as no matter how bad it looks for you, there's 1000 of people out there who could ski that on one foot. And for me, that's good to know simply because for me, mountains are no place to boost your ego and to prove something, as results are normally pretty bad.
 

Rod9301

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My favorite skiing is steep couloir skiing, and i can only find these in the backcountry in the US, or in Europe everywhere.

My limit is s5.1 which is fairly steep, 59 degrees or so, but it has to be wider than 6-8 meters to feel comfortable and not icy or exposed.

Plenty of these in the French pyrenees, where i spent the last 4 out of 5 winters, when I'm not at Squaw.

BTW Paul Bonhomme skis on Völkl vwerks mantras, not super light skis.
 

PowHog

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I'm rather with Primoz here, can't see the point any more of doing some of the lines shown. That said those are professional athletes who get paid to push the envelope. And what Jeremy Heitz does is what I most definitely would still call proper skiing.

The steepest - long and sustained - pitch I've ever skied was about 57°, not with a touring but regular alpine rig and longboards back then. While I admit I got a kick out of that I probably would not want to repeat it these days.
 
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Bruno Schull

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Hi Folks,

Well, at least I got a conversation started.

I like some of what Primoz wrote, basically that it's good to watch these movies because one gets a sense of one's own insignificance in the larger picture of ski mountaineering, and it helps us stay humble. That's what I meant when I wrote that it's nice to know where the limits are...it helps us gain perspective.

That said, I am a little surprised and confused by the push back against this kind of ski mountaineering...as a wise man said, "Climbing is a broad church, let it remain so." I think the same applies to skiing; it's a diverse sport, and we all worship as we see fit. Different strokes for different folks, and all that. Let's accept that climbing up peaks and skiing down is a worthy ski mountaineering pursuit--well, what Bonhomme and others do is simply the logical extension of that. How steep and difficult can you climb up and down? Like establishing first ascents in climbing, establishing first descents is part of extreme ski mountaineering, and has been for decades. I think when people are young it's often about ego, but by the time they're older and experienced, like Bonhome, I think it's really about enjoying the mountains, or expressing their art, in their way, expanding the realm of the possible. Respect and awe are appropriate.

I'm more of a climber than a skier, and I am somewhat accustomed to seeing this kind of push back when non-climbers try to process what the best climbers in the world do. Emotions run high. It's like the varied reactions people have when they watch Honnold solo El Cap. It's hard to see him up there alone without a rope, but he's one of the best athletes in the world, very much in his comfort zone, and I think the same applies to Bonhomme.

And in terms of "real skiing" ability, Bonhomme is a high mountain guide, probably spends at least 100 days on skis a year and has done so for decades, and I am quite sure he can ski any snow, in any conditions, on any skis. The skills of these athletes is incredible.

@Rod thanks for the V works Mantra identification. I'm not sure why, but it's at least somewhat heartening to know what he's on a mid-weight touring ski and not a super-lightweight ski :)
 

Primoz

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Don't get me wrong. I do ski some steep stuff (this time of the year, all my ski touring is basically skinning up to the wall, climbing up in crampons and ice axes, and then skiing down that steep stuff) and honestly it feels good, and I really enjoy it. Not to brag about, as I wrote, there's 100 people just in Slovenia, who would ski way harder stuff, so there's nothing to brag about, but it feels good to get into more demanding stuff. But for me personally, skiing means skiing... making turns. Trying to slide down 2m wide couloir, being attached to rope is not skiing for me. But that that means for ME this is not skiing, and I won't be doing it. If someone else likes it, I'm perfectly fine with it. If he or she enjoys skiing like that, I'm all good with that. On the end, we go out and do things that we love to do exactly because we love to do them. If I love to do one sort of skiing, it doesn't mean everyone else need to enjoy same thing. So yeas @Bruno Schull I agree "Climbing is a broad church" and I think skiing is same and should be same. :)
 

pais alto

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A quote from Saudan in the La Liste video really struck me and it may help to explain some people’s puzzlement here. I’m going to paraphrase, but it went something like this: when he was making his first ascents it was about the mountains first and skiing next, these days he thinks it’s about skiing first then the mountains. That’s a fairly significant difference.

For me, being in the mountains (and meeting the challenges there) is more important than totally slaying lines in super-fine form...though I try to have the best form that I can.
 

Rod9301

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I'm rather with Primoz here, can't see the point any more of doing some of the lines shown. That said those are professional athletes who get paid to push the envelope. And what Jeremy Heitz does is what I most definitely would still call proper skiing.

The steepest - long and sustained - pitch I've ever skied was about 57°, not with a touring but regular alpine rig and longboards back then. While I admit I got a kick out of that I probably would not want to repeat it these days.
Where was it?
 

Primoz

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@pais alto I have to say for me it's the opposite. It's about skiing. That's why, contrary to bunch of my friends, who also need to conquer top of mountain, I have absolutely no problem clipping skis on half way to top of mountain and ski down if skiing that part is way better then skiing in top part, or if top part is just climbing up and down and it's unskiable. I enjoy being out alone in those mountains and I enjoy skinning or climbing up, but main thing is still skiing. So yes I totally agree there's huge difference between "it's about mountains first, and skiing next" and "it's about skiing first and mountains next". But either way is great, especially when you enjoy it... either one :)
 

Slim

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My view:
-(as long as your not causing problems for others), everyone should do what they feel like.

-For me, sometimes it’s about traveling in the backcountry, reaching peaks or other destinations. Sometimes it’s about the the act of skiing or climbing. Often it is both, during different sections of the outing.

-If it is about the act of skiing, it can be about the feelings and kinesthetic experience, or about the technical challenge.

-For me, I see no appeal in the most extreme forms of the steep ski mountaineering or whatever you want to call it. Like in the 3rd video. I like to use the most natural, best tools/equipment for a certain goal.
Yes, it has tons of technical challenge, but it lacks in much of the other aspects, and seems contrived in certain ways.

The same discussion was held in climbing when drytooling became a popular activity.
The reason I am more interested in drytooling is twofold:
-one it allows people to train strength/endurance even when there is no ice(yet).
-in some situations (cold, wet, certain rock types), it allows for effiencent and kinesthetically pleasing movement over that terrain.

So I think practicing such extreme moves on skis can be useful, to efficiently link sections of snow to make ‘normal’ turns. But when it becomes long sections, I think taking skis off and using other techniques would be more appealing.
 
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Bruno Schull

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Hey Folks--

Here's another interesting video of a ski descent:


What I like about this, from the interview in the associated article, is that the skier is a loca, a moutnain guide, somebody who watches these faces year in ad year out...sometimes plans for decades to ski something, sometimes decides on the spur of the moment...ries in on an electric bikes, climbs up, skis down! Very coo.

Also, the best parts are, 1) That he followed mountain goat tracks on the way down, and 2) That his grandfather, a poacher, hunter, and mountain guide, almost certainly explored the same face and ledge system many, many years before.

So cool! As i said before (I think) skiing is a broad church, and I'm glad devotees such as this exist!!!
 

François Pugh

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To me it's skiing. When I was in my 20s, I used to seek out steep lines that could be skied fast, as opposed to steep lines that required skiing slowly, or runs that were not steep enough to satisfy my need for speed. Some of them required turns not to become one with the trees or rock faces, and some required turns to stay on my selected line so that I would be able to clear stuff while in the air. I did it for the rush. Some lines were worth the hours it took to get to or get back from the end of that line (for me). But as I was not really into cross country skiing, and only had alpine gear, I usually settled for my favourite run, a nice safe 53 degree 81 m yard start to a long run that allowed me to end up on a green or blue trail taking me back to the lift.
 
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