So your ice climb is a little off the beaten path. Literally, as no one else has yet beaten a path in! You put your head down and start to post hole through the rotten snow. After a few steps the crust is wearing at your shins, after a few hundred feet you’re starting to bleed. You’ll be down to the bone before getting anywhere near the climb… there has got to be a better way!
Ever had this experience? No? Then try this one:
It’s only a little way up to the base of the climb, a few hundred metres elevation again. But the snow is soft with a sugary base and you sink to your thighs. You start digging with your hands to move some of the snow blocking progress. Each step is a battle as you slip backwards as much as you move forward, your lungs burn with the effort. Cursing and sweaty you take a brief break to stop your heart from bursting and look back, you can still see the car parked just down the slope…
I’m always on the lookout for equipment that may improve a trip into the mountains (just lazy I guess) and so when offered the opportunity to the test out G3’s new Stinger ski I jumped on it. These skis feature a scaled base underfoot that allows the user to walk cross country or on low angle terrain without skins. While definitely not the ski for couloir chasing powder hounds it may be just the tool for ice climbers wanting an easier approach to a climb that’s a little farther from the road or off the beaten path. To find out I took the ski out and pushed it in different terrain, slopes, snow conditions, weather etc. to see what it could do and what it couldn’t. After a bunch of testing I’ve come to a better appreciation for what this very specific, purpose designed ski, can do and where it might be useful. So let’s get started!
First, the specs:
- Positive camber with an early rise
- Fiberglas reinforced poplar wood core
- ABS/TPU sidewalls
- Five available lengths: 157/166/172/177/185cm*
- 14-19m turning radius
- Weight of 1.25 Kg
- P-Tex 2000 Electra bases w G3’s XCD grip pattern
* test ski length was 172cm
The thing that I really noticed about these skis, being an avid skier, was how narrow they are. Just 78mm underfoot!! I don’t know that I’ve ever owned or skied on anything that narrow before and I definitely have never taken such a narrow ski into the backcountry. Surprisingly they seemed to ski reasonably well in the soft stuff so long as it wasn’t too deep and were very easy and playful in supportive snow.
Of course what makes these skis special and the reason we are reviewing them is the XCD grip pattern on the bases. Interestingly when people found out that I was testing a fish scaled ski many would tell me how terrible they have heard they are at climbing and traveling in the backcountry. Now this was all hearsay but it was interesting to get a feel for the bad rep that this type of ski has. So what did the testing show? Well, in a nut shell, I don’t feel that this reputation is deserved so long as the ski is used as intended.
The textured base provides some grip when traveling uphill but do not allow the user to tackle steep hills, nor were they designed to! It would be like going 4×4’ing in a low-rider. If you need go up something much steeper than about 10 degrees (the actual grip achieved is heavily influenced by the temperature and moisture content of the snow) it gets difficult fast. The simplest solution to this problem is to put skins on them.
The biggest advantage to these skis is realized when traversing relatively flat terrain like frozen lakes or rolling alpine valleys due to the exceptional glide that they get. Without skins the effort needed to travel over this terrain is minimal, especially on hard wind swept snow as you gain a few feet of glide with every step.
The biggest dis-advantage to this set-up has nothing to do with the ski itself and everything to do with the boots. Stiff plastic ski boots are terrible at technical ice climbing, like trying to dance with casts on your feet. Alternatively, technical ice boots don’t work with most touring bindings (with the exception the old Silveretta bindings) and are too soft and short to ski very well anyway. The only real solution is to carry your ice climbing boots on your back for the approach, which depending on the approach, may be the easiest option.
Pros: Exceptional glide, light
Cons: Very specialist ski, need to carry ice boots in your pack
Summary: If you already have a ski set-up don’t go and buy something special like this just for approaching ice climbs. However, if you don’t have anything and just want a ski to help access some climbs this may be a good option, they are light, easy to ski and glide very well through flatter terrain though I would still get skins to tackle any steeper approaches.