I've done a bit of cross-country skiing on trails at local mountains, but I'm more interested in getting off the trails and out into the woods. The terrain around here is pretty steep in general with very heavy powder when it snows, which it does a lot (the closest alpine area currently has ~11 feet of snow on the ground and this is normal). Generally, it doesn't get too icy, and rarely below say 15F in temperature.

I'm a bigger guy, so I've found that snowshoeing is pretty painful once the powder gets deep and I lose the ability to "float" pretty quick even on bigger snowshoes.

I have very little interest in climbing things for the purpose of downhill skiing (I'm a snowboarder anyways), mainly I want to move efficiently through deep snow with a pack on, camp, or climb mountains.

I would prefer a solution that is lighter (i.e. if I can strap 2 lbs to each foot and have a somewhat compromised setup, I would prefer that to a "perfect" 5 lb setup).

  • 5 years later - I ended up buying a splitboard and being pleasantly surprised by it's efficiency. It's still clunkier than alternatives (XC, Tele, AT) but perfectly doable and amazing going down.
    – Ryley
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


I don't have the time to give a truly complete answer here, but a good choice for you might be metal edged, waxless, backcountry cross-country skis.

Other options might include: Snowshoes (which you don't like) Telemark or Alpine Touring skis (which are heavy, and downhill focused) Postholing (no fun)

XC skis are far lighter than a telemark setup (~1.6kg, 3.6lbs per pair). They are also much easier to learn. The ones with metal edges will allow you to descend with some basic turns (unlike most XC skis, which don't have metal edges). Added to that, using ones that use a "fishscale" instead of waxing will make your life much easier.

Atomic makes several, though someone (maybe me, later) would need to go over the options for you. Something like Mountain BC Grip would probably work. Madshus makes several as well, such as the Glittertind. Don't forget a set of bindings, which are relatively cheap.

You will also need sturdy boots (backcountry XC boots are different than classic and sport boots, particularly if you're talking racing boots), and poles.

When I worked at an outdoor shop a few years ago we would sell a package deal for a very basic backcountry XC setup (skis, bindings, boots, poles) for around $250. Those were only so-so, but they get better from there.

There are a couple disadvantages.

  • Not as much surface area as a larger ski (or some snowshoes)
  • Harder to get up very steep hills (as compared to teles with skins, or snowshoes, though there are some skins designed for them - they are rare)
  • Not as durable as teles or snowshoes

Really a lot of this depends on the terrain and your desires.

  • Ok, I admit this is a good choice too, but you'll have to choke me with a compression strap to get me to give up my skins. EDIT: Question, where do you end up for total weight (skis, bindings, boots) for a setup like this?
    – phidauex
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 16:18
  • True, skins are nice for those steep angles! Total weight will vary somewhat, obviously, but if you used the Mountain BC Grips (1.6kg), Mover 30 boots (.9kg), and Auto Universal bindings (.26kg), your total ski/boot/binding weight would be around 2.76kg (or 6 pounds). How do you like dem apples?
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 19:48
  • I do NOT like the taste of dem apples. That does sound like a nice light solution if weight is a priority.
    – phidauex
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 19:53
  • Weight does tend to mix things up. That all being said, I love the downhill, so I'd never give up my teles!
    – Greg.Ley
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 22:39
  • Lots of good stuff from you and phidauex. I think I'm likely to aim for this more than a tele setup since I'm not keen on the downhill aspect. Somewhere to start from at least!
    – Ryley
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 0:36

This is a fairly subjective thing, but I think you may be a good candidate for a pair of simple Telemark skis, configured in a ski touring fashion. The advantages for you:

  • Telemark bindings fit nearly any alpine-style ski, so you have many options for length and width to fit your height and weight.
  • Telemark setups are typically very lightweight, challenged only by a few AT setups like Dynafit (which are nice, but NOT cheap, and of little use to you if you don't plan on bombing downhill).
  • The free heel means comfortable climbing with skins, but the sturdy toe-binding means you can move quickly and safely downhill when you need to.
  • I find that I can move much quicker with skis than snowshoes, and when you do end up making descents as a part of your tour, you'll be much happier on skis (just ask your friends who are struggling to keep up).

The downside is that the cost will be slightly higher than snowshoes, and that you would want to learn some basic telemark handling skills. Keep the cost low by shopping used, or previous year's gear.

Sample setup, to get you thinking. This is by no means an endorsement of these specific products. These would be a good start, but there are many quality products in this arena.

  1. Boots: Scarpa T4 or T2X (less aggressive/more aggressive, respectively), ~6 lbs/pair
  2. Bindings: Black Diamond O2 or G3 Targa (simple tele bindings), ~3 lbs/pair
  3. Skis: Black Diamond Stigma (a nice, light touring ski), ~6 lbs/pair
  4. Skins: Black Diamond Ascension STS, trim to fit, ~1 lb/pair after trimming

Total weight, both feet, including boots: 16 lbs

  • 1
    Yikes, considering my whole rest of my winter camping gear is around 16lbs, that seems hilariously heavy :) Nonetheless, I appreciate the detailed advice!
    – Ryley
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 3:58
  • 16lbs? Including boots and layers for 15F? That is either an exaggeration or extremely impressive.
    – phidauex
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 6:53
  • My backpack and contents, not what I'm wearing... boots + snowshoes and hiking clothes are extra :)
    – Ryley
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 16:00
  • 1
    Oh good, I was getting scared! My standard winter backpacking kit (no clothing) is about 20lbs. I always expect to carry more equipment in the winter than the summer - any extra energy I expend on the way out I get back on the comfortable ride down.
    – phidauex
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 16:16

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