Randonnee Your Way to First Tracks
Flexible-heel Gear for Scoring Backcountry Turns
See it in Action:
See Gary Brill put his Randonnee gear to use in laying down the first turns and straddling the first tree of the season. (Animation works well with most browsers and even over slow modems.)

Click on the photos below to see larger images of the hedonistic, backcountry excess:

Free-heeling on Rainier
Randonnee gear allows the heel to be unlocked for climbing...

...and locked down for serious carving.

Leaving tracks on Rainier

Cascade Powder in October

Cutthroat Pass

Mountain Zone correspondents Gary Brill and Jane Bromet lead charmed lives full of backcountry traipsing through dry, October powder and idyllic November corn as shown here in the Washington Cascades.

We hope they got a good price for their souls.

Ski resorts are still closed but hard core skiers are already tracking up the back-country slopes of Mt. Rainier and other wilderness regions of the North Cascades. With randonnee gear and an adventurous spirit, hard-core skiers are already carving perfect turns in October powder and November corn. Cutthroat Pass in the remote North Cascades will soon be cut off for back country skiing as the North Cascades Highway closes for the year. But for a few weeks in early November, this scenic and rugged venue offers unmatched wilderness skiing and mountaineering. Mount Rainier, the third highest mountain in the United States, is another premier backcountry ski destinations.

On November 2, we drove to Paradise, at 5,000m feet on Rainier's south side, and from there skied to about the 7,000 foot level -- a distance of approximately 4 miles of gradual uphill. We skied corn snow to the bottom... almost 2,500 vertical feet. Perfect spring skiing in November! Skiing with randonnee gear is ideal for those backcountry skiers who are already strong down hill skiers. It's WAY cheaper than helicopter skiing and allows you to get into areas that helicopters can't. But going uphill is hard work, so if you want to get into good shape for skiing, this is the way.

Randonnee skiing opens up an entirely new world of skiing and adventure to downhill skiers. Skiing off the beaten path in an open wilderness area is a tremendously exciting experience... it will hook you. Randonnee ski gear is very much like that for downhill but with a few differences: skis are shorter and slightly wider, which makes it easier to turn in powder or heavier snow. Many well known ski manufacturers produce skis in ski mountaineering configurations; generally lighter wider and shorter than their ski area cohorts. In addition, there are new radically cut skis -- a downhill ski with cap construction. These more racially cut skis have a wider tip which turns faster in softer snow and allows for short radius turns when the surface is packed and frozen.

Skins are put on skis for uphill travel and are applied with tip and/or tail hardware and reusable self adhesive. Originally, skins were made from seal skin, now they are made of a one way lap nylon fiber allowing for climbing traction and forward glide. When using skins, one must take care not to contaminate them with water, grease or fine dry snow -- lest they peel off the ski, refuse to stick and ruin the whole day.

Randonnee ski bindings have two modes: lock down, which mimics downhill ski bindings, and a free heel mode for flexibility when climbing uphill. In the latter mode, the heel is free to come off the binding, as in Nordic skiing. There are numerous randonnee bindings on the market, and they vary in operation, release function, and weight.

Randonnee boots are similar to hard shell downhill boots. The sole of the boot is similar to a mountaineering boot -- making it possible to walk more safely in the snow. Generally speaking, randonnee boots are lighter, lower and more flexible than conventional downhill boots, making a longer stride possible.

Since back country skiing has a host of natural hazards, the skills required include; avalanche safely, navigation, self rescue techniques and general good judgment. So even if you can't be in the beautiful Cascades, find some snow somewhere and start skiing. Be safe and have fun!

-- Jane Bromet, Mountain Zone Contributor

MountainZone.com's Marketplace
MountainZone.com's Marketplace features products that will make or break your trip. Glacier glasses, goggles, head lamps, trekking poles and everything from amphibian knives to mosquito coil repellents. The stuff you need, available online.

See the animation || Go back to the main Skiing page.