Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Marquette Backcountry ski review Final Story

Mont Du Testing grounds (Tele Thursday)
First, I need to apologize for the late post on the Marquette Backcountry Ski.  I had a few things hampering me, first I wanted to really ski them in a bunch of conditions (snow and terrain) and I also only had one pair.  That said, I was hoping to get somebody else on them so I could snap some good images for the post, but due to my schedule of being a dad, a husband and a Mountain Bike Evangelist, I had trouble getting somebody to work with my open time slots.  Plus I have to admit that with only one pair I was having trouble giving them up!

I spent a few days on them in the Winona, MN area, skiing the bluffs of the Mississippi River.  The descents there are about 200-300 feet.  The snow conditions while I was there were awesome.  Really deep base with about 2 feet of fresh, fresh high moisture snow on top of that.  The temps were relatively warm, 25-28 degrees.  The snow as not super heavy, but it was certainly not Montana "Cold Smoke" either.  Most of the tours I did I just utilized old logging roads.  The MBS (Marquette Backcountry Skis) climbed really, really well for being a fish scaled ski.  Some times those skidder roads get really steep and the MBS could handle a pretty good grade. However if I started back sliding, the skis were short enough that I could quickly cross fall line and not lose much ground and keep gaining elevation.  Hopping over logs and downfall was easy as well and worry free too, I did not care much about stomping the sidewalls or pushing off rocks to gain leverage.  I did note however that the touring speed of the skis once I got onto the top of the bluffs and could really motor was slow in those conditions (high moisture snow etc).  However before anybody notes that as a negative I think it is best to recall that the MBS is most certainly a hybrid ski/snowshoe etc.  So breaking trail and staying high in the snow pack was exemplary but again if you are looking to really kick and glide, or do really long approaches you will note the resistance.

Hanging off one of the bluffs near my folks place in Pickwick (yeah I grew up in a place called Pickwick!) are some great old Oak and Walnut groves and my intended descents centered around those.  Some are pretty mellow pitches and some are more steep, fall line chutes that open up to more mellow grades.  On the mellow pitches the skis were slow enough where I had to really let them run.  I did not cut a turn at all but just rode the line figure 11 all the way to the bottom.  Again, it would be easy to call that a negative but if you are a beginning backcountry skier I could also see where this would be very predictable and inviting and if you are coming at this from the snowshoe perspective it would beat the hell out of walking down that slope on a pair of foot anchors.

However the steep chutes gave me a whole new look at the skis.  I would classify these skis as "Schuss" skis.  A lost art dating back to the wooden ski era.  Basically in Schuss skiing you point em, embrace fall line, keep your speed as high as you can and turn only when you need to and generally at the end of your arc.  It is a really exhilarating way to ski in deep snow and if you start to think that way there is a wide world of fun to be had.  After a few of those chutes, my mind left the more open slopes and went seeking really steep, tight and exposed lines that were a ton of fun.

In speaking with Dave O, he wrote these lines and I would have to say I agree with them.

"First my use case: My "skiing" style on these skis is more akin to free ride mountain biking on a 6"x6" suspended trail bike. 
I'm going from one rock nob to another picking an aggressive but efficient route up and a challenging but clean run down.
Think of the skis as having two gears, high and low.
The low gear is ideal for slow maneuvering, breaking trail and climbing. Generally speaking low gear is engaged when you are <5mph and <15 degree slope up
The high gear is for steep descents and engages around >10mph and >15 degree slope down
The slowness you feel is the lack of mid-range gearing, long flats (particularly on packed snow) and moderate downhills 5-10mph <15 degrees"

My other really interesting day on the skis was right here at home in Jay Cooke State Park.  The conditions were totally the opposite of Pickwick.  The temps were really cold, 8 degrees and the snow was light with an almost sugary base to it.  The MBS had almost 20% more glide.  So there is no doubt that the ABS in these puppies reacts differently in cold temps.  I was touring much more quickly and getting way more speed on the descents and because of that I was also able to nail some more mellow open slopes I would have normally passed up to get to the steeper stuff I was looking for.

In Jay Cooke my tour times are much compact and because of that I felt I was in more of a "session" mode where I was quickly scrambling up small but steep stuff and then Schussing down.  Jay Cooke is basically an area where there are a myriad of drainages all rolling off an escarpment to the St.Louis River which eventually drains into Lake Superior.  The ground consists mainly of clay and sand so when the water eroded the area it made thousands of small fluted, steep ridges (sometimes 50 degrees plus).  The MBS is right at home in that stuff.  Like I had mentioned in my last post on the MBS, we dont really get that much snow so hitting logs, rocks and maybe even bottom is going to happen and my ride on the MBS on that day was no exception.  Again, I felt no pain when I slammed, smashed and smeared logs on those skis. I should also mention that in both days I am recalling I was using a two buckled semi stiff leather touring boot.  Those were a bit light.  The MBS has enough width and beefiness where there is no doubt that a T2 or a mid level plastic boot would drive the ski more aggressively and you could turn even more than I was.  With my boots, if I was thrown into the back seat I really had to work to get back over the skis.  So again, shooting steep short slopes and really pinning it on stout lines made the skis sing and I have some great ideas on where I want to haul some buddies once they get a pair of the MBS so I can document what I am mentioning.

In conclusion.  I really had a great time on these skis.  They are most certainly everything that Dave O claims they are and I think that they will create a new niche in skiing for me and a lot of other folks.  Due to the speed of the skis however I dont think that they will be the "holy grail" ski I have been seeking but for sure another tool in the quiver for fun on the type of slopes that I have mentioned and the price warrants that as well.

I also think that if I were an east coaster or even a Rockies guy skiing in lower elevations that the MBS would open up a whole bunch of terrain in low snow conditions.  Take for example Brian Mohr's video of low snow skiing in VT this fall and you will see what I mean.  I also think that if you are coming at this from the snowshoe perspective then you will love these things.  We have a pretty crazy group of folks here in the upper midwest who love to huck huge on snowshoes.  Its their deal, I dont really get it but it is amazing what they do!  I think that the MBS will change their activities for sure.  Lastly for the rank beginner it will open huge doors as far as accessing really cool backcountry terrain and learning the sport in a friendly low key way.  So all in all I think Dave O is onto something and I for one am singing its praises.  If I had one suggestion for Dave it would be this.  Create the Marquette Backcountry Ski Pro Model.  Give it a real base for much higher end speeds, charge a premium and watch it sell like even hotter hot cakes than the MBS is right now.....


Dave said...

Pro model: love it.

Metal edges, 155cm length, 160mm shovel, swallowtail.


tatara said...

wow thanks....i just noticed that you finished your review. It is just dumping here...everything is open and i can't get out in it..not even to freaking shovel. Your blog is solace.

Brandon said...

Hey, thanks for this review. It's really helpful. I want a pair and it's hard to decide so reading the details you've listed have been good. Thanks!

Brandon said...

Hey, thanks for this detailed review. I'm having a hard time deciding whether to get these babies... though I haven't decided your review put me a lot closer to a decision. Thanks!

Ski Trip said...

Skiing is indeed a wonderful sport this winter. Also best for family and friends bonding.