Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Ultimate Ski Mountaineering Quiver for 2013

I've been thinking about skis nearly nonstop for the past few years and have been really interested in which skis are the best tool for a particular job.  Over this time, I've skied over twelve different setups, all in the really skinny to mid fat range by most of the major companies.

Last winter, Jason and I were talking while at the OR show in Salt Lake City about what our perfect set up would be for the type of skiing that we prefer.  To clarify, that would be longer, efficient days, with plenty of steep skiing in tight places that often requires at least a little scrambling with skis on packs.  We want to go fast and far and ski a lot.  We were talking about all the options and then happened upon the Ski Trab Maestro at the SCARPA booth.  It was love at first sight.

We were looking for replacements for our well used and abused skis and the Maestro appeared to be everything we wanted.  It was exceptionally light for it's dimensions, had little side cut, and seemed stiff by carpet testing.

My confidence in Ski Trab was born when a friend who I trusted for many gear choices told me they were his favorite skis.  He raced on the World Cups so I did the same.  I used those same first race skis for tours all around the Wasatch, including descents of the Pfeifferhorn, Timp, the Great White Icicle, Box Elder, and a one day traverse of the Oquirrh range across the valley.  They still sit in my gear room next to a new pair that I'll be using this season.

Amazingly, we now find ourselves supported by Ski Trab since they are being distributed by SCARPA North America and have access to the best skis in their line, or in my opinion, the best of the best.

My quiver* thus is all from the same company has been built around the Maestro and is as follows:

Race ski: Ski Trab Race Aero World Cup (96/64/78, 720 gms in 164cm)

Mountaineering ski: Ski Trab Maestro (107/75/94, 950 gms in 171cm)

Powder ski: Ski Trab Volare (129/99/116, 1480 gms in 178 cm)
*I could have easily added the Trab Free Rando Light (171 cm, 112/79/96, 1200 gms) into this mix but it overlaps with the Maestro significantly.  Differences are increased weight without much to gain in width but along with that mass, it seems much stiffer.  
My Harem
Of course there is some crossover in the function of each ski for the above stated purposes as I ski plenty of powder in the race sticks and could take the Volares "mountaineering", but generally, each ski is a tool with a certain function.  All are equipped with race bindings that shed at least 300 gms per foot from standard tech bindings (The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion).

Race Aero World Cup:

Some people might think other shops make a better race ski but no other ski has been to the podium as many times as the Race Aero World Cups.  Perhaps that just good marketing a la Nike in the arena of track and field.  Regardless, they are proven on the world stage as well as in our backyard.  Measuring 4 cm longer than most other race skis, I think they ski better (slightly) than other race skis I've tried by all the other major companies.


This ski is the real unknown of the quiver.  On paper, it's perfect.  I've had a few chances to take it out for some quick skinning, scrambling, and early season - rock bashing - steep skiing and have been really pleased thus far.  It's a little softer than I had anticipated but not enough to deter further use.  Weight wise, it allows a quick cadence like a race ski and I think will be a great ski for long enchainments and speed mountaineering where a race ski simply doesn't feel adequate (although it probably is, sometimes the mental crutch of a bigger ski is a nice boost of confidence).  Anyway, so far the Maestro is fitting the bill as the best ski mountaineering tool available (more work needed to confirm this). It isn't really available this year in the US but can be found from some Euro online vendors like telemark-pyrenees.com


This is my big heavy powder ski!  Most of you will probably laugh and say that it's not big and it's not heavy.  That's true but in this quiver it's the biggest and heaviest and it's plenty of ski for me.  I don't huck big stuff nor straight-line anything of consequence but sometimes I like to ski fast and these skis can more than handle that.  Plus, they are still light enough that I'll get to ski at least an extra run over a truly heavy set up.

Superior South Face round two on 64 mm underfoot (Photo taken by Chad Ambrose, permission pending)
The above photo was taken on Dec 29th on one of our two runs down the South Face of Superior.  Most of Salt Lake City was found somewhere along the skin track or the descent but there was still plenty of fresh soft snow for everyone.  Jason, Chad and I set out on race gear and speed suits, intent on getting in some "up tempo" skinning as part of our race preparations for the upcoming Skimo National race.  We ended up going hard up Pole Line, easing off along the ridge, and finishing the boot track with a sprint.  On our second lap, we skinned more consistently and comfortably and ended up topping out in just about the same time of ~one hour.  Include some fantastic skiing and a well planned car shuttle, and we were able to put in two Superior laps in 3 hours and surprised a couple people on the skin track when we went past a second time.

Not only was it incredibly fun to move smoothly and efficiently along the ridge, we were able to ski twice as much as I thought time would allow as Chad had family obligations in the early afternoon.  This was made possible by purposefully choosing to use our World Cup skis (Chad had Hagans) on a glorious powder day.  Some friends met us in the parking lot and thought we were idiots for wasting the powder.  They are fast and managed to ski a ton that day on big gear but I still think we made a fun and appropriate choice for our desired goals and I guess that's the whole point to having a quiver in the first place.


  1. topping out in an hour, wow. Keep up the good work.

  2. I'd love to give the Maestro a try. I just bought a pair of Movement Random for super cheap for big spring objectives but already tore them up on my tour to test them out! Horribly scratched bases with a 3 inch core shot! With my speed radicals they are 1.5Kg each. I can only imagine 950+135 for 1085gr!

  3. okay, so i understand light is right (in principle--i myself am neither light nor right, and my gear is fat and heavy as well).

    but how much faster are you on your light gear? for example, from car to summit of superior, you are an hour. how long would that take you if you skied megawatts? 70 minutes? 65 minutes?

    i am not saying you are making the wrong choice (me saying that would be ridiculous, for a variety of reasons). i am saying, you are fast as hell, and with heavier gear, you would be a couple percentage points slower.

    whereas, if i used your gear, i would be a couple percentage points faster. so it would take me 2 hours to summit superior instead of 2:15.

    given that difference, i'll take giant skis.

    1. Dug, I am a big hairy anglo and I had the same questions as you not long ago. Comparing your ski setup to wicked light gear is like comparing a old 50lb norco DH mtn bike to a 15lb carbon road bike.
      On race gear you would be under 2 hrs up superior and at the bottom you would be ready for more. However, being accustomed to heavy gear you would probably not be psyched while skiing powder on race gear.
      A couple yrs ago I bought a pair of light-ish 5 lb boots and 6 lb skis, this was only slightly lighter than my 8.5 lb boots and 8 lb skis that I had used for years (both w/ dynafit bindings). The difference is remarkable, I can go farther/faster and break trail effortlessly, its like skiing but easier. There is a slight difference on descents and I still use both setups regularly.
      Try taking some meat off your set up, a pair of carbon justice, dynafit bindings and a pair of vulcans might blow your mind?

  4. What, no triple-digit-waisted heavily rockered ski with six-pound bindings?
    Seriously though, beautiful quiver of course.
    But curious about the kind of "half-step" heel elevator on your race bindings for all your skis. I have two setups with a certain French race heel and one setup with a certain Germanic race heel. I find that they are absolutely perfect for perfectly graded skin tracks -- as this is of course their intended purpose -- but get into ski mountaineering applications where you can't select your optimal skintrack angle, and they are definitely lacking. By contrast, the near-race binding of a certain Italian competitor has both the "half-step" position of a race binding and the traditional lower position of a typical Tech binding -- I've been really happy with this combination for assorted PNW volcanoes.
    My understanding is that established skin tracks in your region tend to be very steep? Do you have trouble gripping, or...? (I remember that Jared -- and maybe one of you guys also -- even went to far as to graft a higher position onto some race bindings for a tour?)

  5. Hey Dug,

    I'd guess that my time going all out on the race skis would be around 50 minutes and all out on your set up would be just under two hours. Ok, maybe an hour and 45 minutes. Spread that out over a day and slow down the pace for both and that's a big difference in the amount of skiing and the places you can go.

    I'm not great at skiing on the little stuff but there are people that can seriously rip on em. You should give it a try. It feels pretty good to go faster.

  6. "The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion"

    As a backcountry skier who is considering race bindings for my next backcountry set-up i'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue in a future post. Thanks!

  7. Any updates on the Maestro performance?
    Also, are you using just a standard skin tip loop/bar? (That ski tip on the Maestro looks ... different.)

  8. "The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion"

    As a backcountry skier who is considering race bindings for my next backcountry set-up i'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue in a future post. Thanks!


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