For me, riding a 105 mm waisted ski is like sitting on a Budweiser Clydsdale. Big (for me), but those horses do run.
Years ago, when I owned a snowmobile that would now be considered for the hall of famous sled antiques, a high end commercial photographer hired me and my old Yamaha Enticer to help him image the Clydesdales. The sport plan was they had a couple dozen of those equine monsters in a field full of snow, and we’d scoot around on the sled making images while the horses were prancing in the meadow. Big slow horses, right? Piece of cake, right? Snowmobile with no more power than the average lawn mower not a problem, right?
The wranglers gathered the horses up beside a fence and we positioned the snowmobile on the other side of the herd with the photographer riding backwards behind me, anchored by nothing more than his legs hooked around my ski rack. Photog waved his arm, the wranglers snapped whips the length of Exum Ridge, and I gunned (wrong word) the Yamaha with the film crafter riding backwards. And, um, those monsters are GAINING ON ME! Fear mashed my thumb down on the throttle, and I slowly pulled away from certain trample death like I was crawling with my feet bungied to rocks. Ah, I thought, I’ll live and I’ll get paid… Yet safety was not to be. The artist wanted the tight shot, so he yelled “slow down” and I had to back off the thumb paddle till those thundering dinosaurs were about 8 feet from my bumper. You could hear the Clydesdales breathing and snorting as they ran — louder than that screaming 2 cycle. If either of us had fallen off, hello Peter.
In other words, never never let size fool you.
Consider the La Sportiva Hi5 ski. With tip splay and rocker reminiscent of duck feet, bountiful width underfoot, and a tail that looks like the barbeque spatula I was using up at Inde last week to fry cow flesh, I figured a ride on these guys would be kludgy in all but the best conditions (read: perfect powder I can ski anything in.) Wrong.
The mark of any good modern ski mountaineering plank is that the gnomes of wherever (in this case the respected Nani Tua ski factory in Italy) who design it can make it more than a one trick pony. In that respect I was impressed by the Hi5. Some of the best testing I did was skiing mank at my workout hill as the resort season came to a close. I found the Hi5 to be super forgiving in such conditions — a relaxing ride.
In the case of mank riding, my only gripe with Hi5 is an effect I’ve noticed with most rockered skis, something I’m calling “rocker jerk.” What happens is you get on snow that’s “grabby” (either dirty, or your wax is off). Every time a terrain variation causes the rockered ski base to engage, you decelerate, then you speed up again as the Ptex disengages. The feel is reminiscent of lugging a manual transmission truck.
Well, perhaps I should not have been skiing conditions that even a horse would avoid. Better wax would have helped as well. (Come to think of it, I was wondering why I was the only person up there that day.)
So, moving along in our take; maneuverability? No question. When you’re riding 178 cm and around a third of that is lifted off the snow by rocker geometry, yes ma’am you can swivel.
But carving a ski like the Hi5 requires getting some energy into the plank and tilting to engage the full edge in a turn. That’s easy when you’re skiing with velocity in good conditions, yet when moving slow on hardpack any heavily rockered ski can feel like you’re riding a 10 cm butter knife. At times the effect can be like stuffing a sporty car into a turn with the wrong gear, no torque to play with, at the mercy of physics and prayer. Thus, feeling the confident edge of the Hi5 when I was working my way down icy suncups the other morning gave me a new appreciation of just how much good engineering can eke out of a ski these days. I wouldn’t call the Hi5 cougar claws, but they grab as you’d expect from an ABS sidewall constructed plank.
Thus, overall verdict on the Hi5 is it gave enough in the all-rounder category to be useful for ski mountaineering.
Best for last. Lightweight and wide skis are popping up across the industry like marmot heads in a springtime Rockies snowfield. Considering just a few years ago you could count the availability of such planks by calculating on the toes of one foot, this new cornucopia is nearly supernatural. At 62 ounces per ski in a 178, Hi5 is definitely a Weight Watchers grad — we’re thus confident this ski would make a fine human-powered nieve harvesting machine.
Let those horses run, and stay out front.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.