STOKED IN SWITZERLAND
Dynafit Unveils New Ski in Switzerland's Backcountry
Words and Photos: Matt Hansen
Skinning 2,500 feet is not that hard, but it's not terribly easy either. Unless you're doing it every day or your name is Greg Hill or Benedikt Bohm, two skiers who could climb that in a single breath, while sleeping, dressed only in their jock straps. It also helps if you're on the right gear (and wearing pants). For many skiers as of late, that designation would apply to Dynafit, the lightweight touring system that is gaining ground as the go-to choice for backcountry skiers. Converts include the late Doug Coombs, Glen Plake, and Ptor Spricenieks, and hundreds of other nameless skiers plying the mountains of the world. The tools have certainly helped Hill and Bohm: Hill being a Revelstoke skier known for climbing and skiing 1 million vertical feet in a single year; Bohm being a German ski mountaineer whose attempted "speed records" have seen him tackle Gasherbrum II and Broad Peak, 8,000-meter Himalayan peaks on the China-Pakistan border.
But you don't have to be a freak of nature, and you don't have to wear Spandex to use Dynafit, a common misconception among the so-called "freeride" crowd, where fatter and heavier is often equated to performance and, let's be honest here, a certain cool factor.
Last week, I had the chance to demo the Dynafit system in Switzerland. The company was unveiling its new Stoke ski, its fattest board yet at 130-106-120 (in a 182cm), to a group of international journalists. The Stoke is Hill's signature ski, the name a call-out to his home in Revelstoke. The event was set at a rustic backcountry hut in St. Antonien, on the Swiss-Austria border. Magnificent peaks surround the hut, making for some of the finest backcountry touring found anywhere.
My setup included the Stoke, at 182cm (1640g), the Zzero4 boot (1710g), and the TLT Vertical FT 12 binding (540g), and pre-cut Dynafit skins. I've been backcountry skiing since 1998, almost exclusively with telemark equipment, but this was my first time using Dynafit. As someone who is used to fiddling with my bindings, bending over repeatedly to tweak my shit, stepping into what at first appears to be a dainty and high-maintenance system proved to be a breeze. The binding has a "four-point link" with the boot, so as long as you make sure you have a solid connection (which takes a little practice initially), you're in there for good. The binding itself has a 12 DIN, which for most people is more than enough. Some skiers are even starting to use this binding inbounds at resorts like Jackson Hole, where a day at the hill usually includes forays into the sidecountry.
This will be old news to present Dynafit fans, but it's amazing how lightweight it is. I kept lifting my foot to make sure it was still there. Some people would call this a "breakthrough" moment. On the ensuing skin, I had lots of them. From the ease of climbing, to the view, to the fact that two people having a conversation in German right behind you is a pleasing soundtrack even if you have no idea what they're saying. It seemed that we were at the top of a peak in no time. Fresh and ready to ski.
The steep north face had certainly been skied, but at this time of year the shade covers it every hour of the day. So the snow was cold and there were plenty of freshies. Our guide, a Swiss named Dominic, advised us to avoid the rocks on the left. Turned out that the "rocks" where a series of cliffs hundreds of feet high. So we stayed right.
The Stoke is a relatively wide and stable ski. Constructed of lightweight paulownia wood, with beech and bamboo stringers, it has a medium flex and a slight early rise tip. I thought the binding looked like it was mounted a bit too far back, despite the early rise tip. My first turns told me my eyes weren't lying, but by the next round I was on top of the ski, gliding through soft Swiss powder. This probably wouldn't be my first choice for an everyday resort ski, but that's not Dynafit's intention. For a backcountry setup used predominantly in deep snow locales—like Revelstoke, the Tetons or the Wasatch—Dynafit has entered the core North American market as a very tough competitor. The Stoke will be released for the 2010-11 season."
At the end of the lap, we took the nice easy ski back to the hut, where tall German Weissbiers and plates of cheese and meats awaited. The porch drenched in sunshine. Definitely stoked.