Traveling fluidly up, down, and across snowy terrain on skis is a form of backcountry transportation etched permanently in my mind. My memory of the first time that I glided through the snowy forest on skinny skis over 35 years ago is vivid and still satisfying. Perhaps the only thing better than breaking trail on skis in snowy silence is the reward that follows: the flying, floating descent suspended in a sweet medium of Wenatchee Mountains powder snow.Today, the ‘biggest’ tools in my backcountry skiing quiver are the Dynafit Stoke ski, Stoke climbing skins, Dynafit FT12 binding, and Dynafit Zzero4C boot. Yes, I like Dynafit gear. Dynafit has a European ski-touring bias toward shaving weight — an approach I appreciate. However with the Dynafit Manaslu ski, the FT bindings and, now, the Stoke ski, Dynafit equipment development is being pulled in the ‘freeriding’ direction of North American ski touring. The Stoke has an “early rise” tip just like the Dynafit Manaslu ski. The shovel is about 25 cms in the 182 cm length compared to Manaslu’s 23 cm in the 178 cm length.On ski tours one spends about 90 percent of the time walking or climbing on skis, so the touring performance is of equal or greater importance to the downhill skiing performance of the boards.
The Stoke ski that I use is the 182cm length with width dimensions of 130-106-120 mm. Dynafit lists the weight of these skis at 1645 grams per ski — nice dimensions for skiing soft snow, and very light for skis of these dimensions. Combined with the Dynafit FT12 bindings and the Zzero4C boot, this toolkit is efficient on the uphill and excellent for deep snows on the descent.The Stoke is a solid backcountry powder ski. When I ski soft snows with them, I ski faster than what my normal judgment would recommend. But the stable and wide Stoke is so fun, you want to let ’em rip! In fact, Stoke has sufficient flex characteristics to ski aggressively and effortlessly through rather stiff and variable snow conditions.
Touring on the Stoke is also quite efficient if the entire package is kept light with Dynafit bindings and a boot like the and Dynafit Zzero4C. Nonetheless, you are pushing more skin surface uphill on a wider ski like this, so I choose this rig for tours with a demanding descent. Easier terrain can be handled by a rig that not only weighs less but that has less surface area and slides more easily over the snow.
I ski about 10 backcountry days for every day on the lifts, but to test the Stoke I sacrificed a backcountry powder day last season for the opportunity to ski Mission Ridge after a big dump. Runs with untracked snow were definitely fun on these skis. The day also proved to me that although the Stoke was significantly stiffer and more dampened than my Dynafit Manaslus (and thus better on hardpack), like most wide boards, they were annoying to ski on the hardpack.What makes them annoying? Skis that are optimal for the hardpack — like those used by slalom racers — are around 67 mm wide in the waist and are very close to the width of your boots. Skis like this that are far wider than the width of a boot create leverage that works against you when you try to edge them on hard snow. It takes a bigger boot and better technique to drive them. I found the Stoke both difficult and floppy to carve in any serious fashion on hard snow.
This brings up the discussion to my personal biases. I ski tour about 80 days per year and frequently use a snowmobile on snowed-over roads to reach a place where I want to tour. Even with the snowmobile assist, most of my ski time is spent touring uphill on skis, not downhill skiing. As a result, the Stoke and the Zzero4C boot feels heavier than my favorite soft-snow rig — the Dynafit Manaslu (124-95-109 mm in 178cm length, 1550 grams) and the Dynafit Zzero3C boots.The Stoke handles unconsolidated backcountry snow (be it powder or glop) very well — better than my Manaslu backcountry powder ski. However, when considering the total ratio of climbing to descending, my Manaslu/ Zzero3C rig is still my favorite ski touring setup for backcountry powder conditions. Others with different preferences, however, will willingly sacrifice more weight on the uphills for the more capable downhill performance of the Stoke. To such skiers, I would not hesitate recommending the Stoke as a soft-snow board.
This post was originally published on 11/8/11.