Have you ever found yourself in early summer, high in the mountains, far from a road, confronted with miles of lingering snow wishing you had skis? I know I have. Think: Montana’s Beartooth Plateau, California’s High Sierra, or Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
Late season skiing along the crest of the Wind River Range
With the goal of lightness, versatility and travel I have spent recent years experimenting with a ski rig coined: Fast Shoes. The term Fast Shoes is a play on “Slow Shoes”— a derogatory term for snowshoes. For many venturing into winter snowscapes, snowshoes are the best option. Snowshoes are light, relatively inexpensive and user-friendly. I, however, am a skier and love the efficiency and motion of skiing. I don’t do snowshoes.
Fast Shoes 1.0: The earlier version of the L.L. Bean Boreal is the same ski as the Karhu Karver.
For my first pair of Fast Shoes (Version 1.0) I screwed a pair of Neos Villager Overboots onto an older version of L.L. Bean Boreals that in reality are the discontinued Karhu Karver Ski with an L.L. Bean logo. This worked reasonably well. The short and fat Boreal/Karver ski (120cm x 120/100/115) only weighed about three pounds per ski (with overboot), floated in unconsolidated snow, and strapped neatly on my pack or packraft. The down side: on hard firm snow it is all but impossible to edge, turn, or skate. Trail runners inside Neos Villagers are simply not enough boot for such a wide ski. Additionally, the Boreal/Karver utilize skin inlays (climbing skins permanently embedded in the base) that grip well and negate the need for climbing skins, but are terrible to glide on. I wanted something faster.
Fast Shoes 2.0: A Neos Overboot bolted to a waxless Karhu Nordic Ski
For my next pair of Fast Shoes (Version 2.0) I bolted Neos Villager Overboots on a pair of Karhu Pioneer Junior Nordic Skis (130cm x 63/57/60). At only 2 pounds per ski with boot, Version 2.0 is the lightest ski rig I know of.
For most snow conditions Karhu’s Omintrack NoWax base provides a fair compromise between grip and glide. In order to climb steeper slopes I fashioned kickers skins (2 ounces per skin) from the trimmings of a pair of climbing skins for my fat powder skis. To keep the kicker skins on the skis I used a Speedy Stitcher to attach a Voile Strap at one end.
Kicker Skins: constructed from leftover skin trimmings and Voile Straps
The Karhu Pioneer Junior Nordic Skis are more efficient traveling on firm snow than the Karver Skis, but tend to wallow in unconsolidated powder or temperature gradient facets. They also lack metal edges. For my next pair of Fast Shoes (Version 3.0) I will likely try a compromise between the stability and floatation of the Karver Ski with the speed and lightness of the Pioneer Junior Nordic Ski. Maybe something slightly wider with metal edges like the Salomon XADV 89 Grip Backcountry Ski (168cm x 89/60/78).
Another take away lesson from my first pair of Fast Shoes regarded how to attach the overboots. To maintain a bend at the ball of the foot, that is both comfortable and efficient, they need to be bolted as close to the toe as possible. The Karhu Karvers are pre-drilled for a Nordic Norm 75mm binding — so that’s what I did. Doing this, unfortunately, creates a problem: the two rear screws are too far from the toe of the Neos Overboot creating a fulcrum that does not match that of the human foot. The Neos Overboot needs to be attached closer to the toe. To accomplish this in my second pair of Fast Shoes I just used two bolts, an inch apart, aligned along the long axis as close to the toe as possible. In order to securely attached the overboots to the ski I drilled holes completely through the skis and then used short bolts with one inch washers on the inside of the boots. The holes on the bottom of the skis can be back-filled with P-tex.
Overboots are attached to the skis using two bolts about an inch apart.
To complete this versatile ultra light cross-country ski rig I use Komperdell C3 Duolock (6.9 ounces per pole) adjustable carbon trekking poles. While some believe the added weight of an adjustment mechanism superfluous, I find the extra grams a worthy investment. When collapsed the poles easily fit inside my pack. I’m also in the habit of shortening my poles on climbs and lengthening them on flats. Inside the Neos Overboots I have found the La Sportive Raptor (12.28 ounces per shoe) trail runners a versatile, comfortable, light and durable option.
If you shop around you can find the Karhu Pioneer Junior Skis on sale for under $40 and the Neos Overboots for under $50. Total construction cost of Fast Shoes: $100. My entire Fast Shoe 2.0 rig (including skis, overboots, trail runners, poles, and climbing skins for both sides) weighs in at 6.65 pounds. With trail runners and trekking poles already part of standard hiking gear; the skis, overboots, and ability to travel efficiently over snow adds only 4 pounds.
A few hours in the garage, $100, and four pounds is all that is needed to efficiently ski across those high altitude late season snowfields.
Fast Shoes 2.0 in Acton: Grand Teton National Park