Power Kite Forum

What to look for in XC skis for all-round kite touring?

rofer - 9-22-2016 at 04:27 AM

So, now that the temperatures are just beginning to drop I'm already thinking about snowkiting. Specifically, I've always loved the idea of using a kite to travel a sizable distance and I think I'm ready to start taking steps to get into kite touring.

I love the idea of making an Antarctic crossing to the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be ready for that intense of a journey. More reasonably though, I'd like to cross Lake Erie from Presque Isle, PA to Canada and back. At 30 miles (each way) I figure with good wind it should easily be a day trip, but even in no wind I should be able to get back to civilization.

It seems that XC skis are the right equipment for these kinds of trips since they work both with the kite and without it. I have some experience with skis from several years ago, but never any experience with XC skis. I'm certainly willing to take the time to learn something though.

Anyways, with all that background out of the way, my real question is what kind of XC skis/bindings should I get to handle the broadest range of frozen lake conditions? Ideally something that will do well enough on nice, clear ice and also work in the powder. I imagine the two goals are generally at odds with each other and I don't know what the best compromise is.

Feyd - 9-22-2016 at 04:35 AM

No. XC skis are NOT the right equipment. They are not durable enough or versatile enough to deal with the variable conditions that one encounters over long distance kite tours.

See below.


You can obviously ride XC gear if the conditions are right but I wouldn't bet my life in them. You snap a tip on an ice fin 15miles out and things can suck.

Touring long distance, especially on ice, requires careful planning, recon and proper equipment.

Feyd - 9-22-2016 at 04:43 AM

And this...

rofer - 9-22-2016 at 04:57 AM

Huh, I'd read over your equipment page just yesterday, but apparently not very thoroughly. I was under the impression that XC skis were standard for these kinds of expeditions, but I know very little about this stuff which is exactly why I asked this kind of question.

So your suggestion is either an Alpine Touring or Telemark binding with relatively straight skis? What are the advantages of a telemark setup when touring? I'd be interested in learning them if they'd be a better fit for this kind of thing.

I definitely get the importance is recon which is part of why I'm starting now. The plan definitely isn't to just grab some new equipment and head off the Canada the second the lake freezes. I'm probably going to start another thread later today focused just on the logistics of this. I've certainly given it some thought and there'll be plenty more before I ever actually attempt it.

Finally, I love the ice safety blog you link from your own page. I read through it last winter and learned a lot.

Feyd - 9-22-2016 at 05:42 AM

Tele skis are nice because they are light and simple. And with practice you can put your skins on and off without taking your skis off. A good tele system with a good tele boot can be great and perform on par with a performance Alpine or touring set up. But less performance based systems, especially on the kite, can be less useful compared to an Alpine system of the same level.

There are no lack of crusty old tele guys out there that love leather boots and will tell you they are as good as a hard boot with a race flex. Really it depends on the demands you put on the gear. The wind you start with may not be the wind you find further out. Or the wind whe. You get back. What you have under is at least as important as what you have in the air. You have to be able to hold an edge to manage the kite and bad choices in your ski set up will hinder that.

Kite touring on ice is every bit a Backcountry ski experience as we used to get in the mountains. The difference is you have to worry about going through the ice instead of avalanche but the risk, and risk management is essentially the same. Emergency action plans are critical. Self rescue getting out of the ice is only half the battle if you go through. Dealing with being soaking wet, as your clothing and gear freezes up while you're miles away from anyone, is a serious situation. Having a game plan for each leg of the trip is key. With tacking, a 30mile trip can be 100 miles if the wind direction is wrong. :o

skimtwashington - 9-22-2016 at 07:10 AM

Perhaps it may be confusing in the semantics or understanding in the 'XC Ski ' term...?


XC skis are generally those skis that are narrow profile, highly cambered , and without metal edges..... and whose boot and binding allow heel lift to 'kick and glide' . They are also used on untracked terrain.

The boots (usually leather) and 'bindings do not handle much torque. Meant for simple forward movement , and low amounts or twist and side forces(or binding may actually break).

They are not used FOR EDGING into snow and ice(hard) surfaces...not for carving or holding an edge(like you will need in kite skiing).

Telemark skis have sometimes in the past been put under the XC category because they have been designed to use with a boot/ binding system that also has FREE HEEL movement in common, but telemark is really a separate category.

Alpine skis have traditionally been a lot heavier than telemark skis, but that has been changing in modern times as today's Alpine skiis are using lighter material than the past and don't weigh much more than Telemark...and sometimes are close to same weights.
You can expect similar construction, light material, shaping/sidecut, . Both hold edge and carve with applied gravity. Some skis are actually marketed for either Telemark or Alpine touring set up.

It's really the binding and boot you will be using on that telemark or alpine ski.... be it alpine, alpine touring or Telemark binding. Solid binding and ALL PLASTIC boots for either set up.

*These setups will allow you to self power, gravity free, or kite free, across all terrain. You are 5 miles out in middle of huge lake kite skiing and wind dies? you can ski back.

You could combine a tour through the woods on trail to a backcountry lake and then pull out kite and harness and kite ski on it. Pack up and ski back thru the woods to trailhead.

I use telemark set up and they work perfectly.


*So....for ski kiting any long distance you need to get back to start if wind dies. You want the ability to 'tour' back to home/start with a Telemark or alpine touring binding(both allows heel lift and thus a kick and glide).

Ski skins together with collapsable ski poles(usually 3-pc is smallest to fit on/in a pack) will allow you to ski tour back easily.

With that being said...
You can have just skins, or just ski poles....but...

If you don't have skins(or a XC grip wax), but just ski poles-you can kick and glide -pushing off from each pole plant(and good weight shift technique).... but difficult snow(deep or icy..) may have you slipping back and be difficult itself.

If you have just ski skins, you can shuffle forward without poles( swing arms to shift weight to each ski). Better than above(just poles) in all snow conditions.. (ice- less so).

If you have neither skins nor poles you MAY be able to still ski forward but you may slip back a lot, or progress may be wicked slow and frustrating. If you have a long way to go it will be miserable. You might even have to take off skis and walk.
It depends on snow/ice conditions.

What is you ski background?


rofer - 9-22-2016 at 07:33 AM

My terminology was definitely off. I know I need either Alpine touring or telemark bindings and I'm interested in which kind of skis to get such that I can handle a wide range of conditions that can occur on a large frozen lake.

I'll definitely be bringing both collapsible poles and skins.

My skiing background is all downhill and all close to 10 years old. I was at best an early intermediate to intermediate skier with no experience doing this kind of thing. I realize I'll need to spend some time learning to use this new equipment before I actually attempt something like this.

(I also know there's a lot more to touring than just getting the right stuff. I'm going to start another thread to get some advice on all of the other stuff too.)

Windstruck - 9-22-2016 at 08:07 AM

Rofer - nice to see you noodling over these plans. Should it all come together this would make for an epic adventure. Doubly glad that you are so open to feedback from the likes of feyd and skimtwa. These dudes speak high truths. The upsides to such an adventure are self evident. The downsides? Potentially life ending. Way out on one of our Great Lakes could easily turn into the sort of setting you wrote about first with your South Pole trecking comment.

Have you considered enlisting a partner in crime for this adventure? I for one would vastly prefer to be out there with somebody else. Tough to find that person I suspect. Good luck!

rofer - 9-22-2016 at 08:19 AM

Yup, definitely something I was going to mention in my later post. A second person would likely make everything substantially safer. There are enough local kiters that I think it might be possible. There's even a group up in Buffalo planning a much more ambitious lateral traversal of Lake Erie.

However, before I go about trying to recruit someone else I'd like to have more of the details figured out so it's clear I'm serious about doing things the right way.

abkayak - 9-22-2016 at 08:36 AM

does Lake Erie normally freeze over?

rofer - 9-22-2016 at 08:45 AM

Being the shallowest of the Great Lakes it freezes sooner than the others. Wikipedia link

Last year it never got solid enough that I was comfortable venturing out though. I'm hoping it will freeze well this winter.

Feyd - 9-22-2016 at 09:58 AM

Last year was terrible. So little ice that I would consider "safe.

Big crossings without experience, buddy up. Carry throw ropes, spare screws, carabiners and know how to use them.

Many of the places we ride don't have cell coverage so Sat phones or SPOTs are important. Not sure what the coverage is for your situation. Cells generally dont work wet. :P

Tele is nice and light. But nobody enjoys riding tele on boilerplate. The winds out on broads can scour the snow off and you may have large spans of glass to cover. The torsional stiffness of an Alpine tour set up will pay off in that situation. Assuming you know how to drive an edge.

I flew a good portion of Lake Michigan a few years back. Was amazed at how variable the surface was. Some was creamy perfection, some broken plates with water between, some shattered and refrozen plates on edge that caused detours miles off my course. It's an awesome feeling when you get far enough that you can't see shore in any direction. I love wide open spaces.:D

abkayak - 9-22-2016 at 10:10 AM

not many things worse then being alone and cold...and then the night comes
unless your wet...than you thankful it was just the above

rofer - 9-22-2016 at 10:14 AM

It sounds like an AT system is the way to go. What would work best for length and width? Maybe something in between what you suggest for hard and soft conditions? Or does most of the variety on a frozen lake fall under hard conditions?

Most of the safety stuff you recommend is definitely stuff I'm planning on. I even have a waterproof phone, but I don't expect T-Mobile to have great coverage in the center of Lake Erie. I also happen to be a licensed ham radio operator which might be useful too.