Gear Review: Alpina Alaska 75 ski boots & Voile Hardwire 3-pin bindings

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I wanted to share the details of my ski setup as it is not very common (at least in Australia) and I get a few questions from people I meet on the mountain. If you are looking for a versatile combo for backcountry touring read on…..

The bindings

The bindings are accurately described by Voile as the “Swiss Army Knife of telemark bindings”. As shown on the left in the photo above – the boot is secured using the standard 75mm 3-pin old school rat trap. A well-proven and reliable arrangement for backcountry touring. On the right you will see that the boot is secured by the rat trap at the front AND a hardwire style cable at the back – and this setup makes the boot/binding combo stiffer for more control going downhills and making turns.

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The steel rod and the spring-loaded cartridge of the hardwire system really helps to lock the boot in but the extra tension on the heel can be a bit annoying on flat ground or uphill – which is exactly when you disengage the hardwire and revert to 3-pin mode.

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You can easily take the hardwire off and leave it at home if you are planning on an easy kick and glide trip or you are a good skiier and trying to keep the weight down.

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You can see the climbing wire in the raised position in the photo above. These are intended to make it easier on your legs when you are skinning up long steep hills but I don’t have skins and try to avoid steep hills so I haven’t had an opportunity to use them apart from a brief test on a moderate uphill.

20160828_Alpina_002The hardwires are shown here in the stowed position. If you get the heel riser installed in the right location relative to the length of your boot the hardwire will lock in position behind the riser.

The bindings come with some anti-icing tape which you stick on the blue metal toe plate.

Overall I would say that these bindings are pretty awesome and I am really glad that I purchased them. The versatility is exactly what I want for my type of skiing. It sometimes takes me a couple of goes to clear the snow and get the pins engaged in the duckbill when locking in the toe but that would be the same with any 3-pin binding.

It is worth noting that like most Cross Country bindings these have no release function so there is potential to break your ankle or something in a bad crash. Some of the high performance telemark bindings have the ability to release your boot in a crash.

Bretto Rating: 9/10

Would I buy it again: Yes

The Boots

I wanted a heavy duty boot but I didn’t want to go plastic. I am a big fan of leather (footwear that is) and anyone who has an old pair of leather hiking boots knows how comfortable they can especially when well worn in. Think of the Alaska 75 as a heavy duty hiking boot with a 3-pin sole. It is insulated, has a waterproof liner and a great lacing system. What more could you want? Well if you are a gun tele skier you will probably want something stiffer and that is going to mean a big heavy plastic boot.

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Is it just me or is this a sexy boot?

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The rubber rand means that most of the wet slush doesn’t come into contact with the leather keeping the boot drier and warmer.

Warmth and Waterproofness

The boot has Thinsulate insulation and only on one occasion have my toes felt cold and that was after a period of inactivity. If you keep moving you are not going to get cold. The boots have an Alpitex membrane which I assume is Alpina’s version of Gore-Tex. Does it work? I think so…..I have noticed my toes get a bit damp and clammy on a few occasions after a long day or a few strenuous miles and I put that down to the inability of the toe section to breathe through the rubber rand. Obviously any membrane isn’t going to help breathability in that area but for most of the boot I think the leather and membrane combo seems to do a decent job of keeping your feet dry – from both the snow on the outside and foot vapour on the inside. With the exception of the rand section I would say it performs similar to a Gore-tex lined leather hiking boot.

When putting my feet back into the boots on the second day of a trip I have noticed the boots being a bit moist and taking a bit longer to warm up than when completely dry but there isn’t much you can do about that. One time I wore a pair of large plastic freezer bags over my socks as a vapour barrier to try and keep any moisture out of the boot lining and it seemed to work but the small amount of moisture is probably not a big deal unless you are going for a trip of many days somewhere really cold. If you are that much of a princess about getting a damp sock you probably need to find a new hobby.

I have not yet tried testing the waterproofness of the boot by standing in ankle deep water.

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The Vibram sole has the standard 3-pin holes and 75mm “Duckbill” at the toe. The grip is aggressive and provides good traction when walking around in the snow.

Sizing

I would say these boots run true to size or maybe half a size large. I normally wear a size 46 to 46.5 in Asolo and Salomon boots and shoes (which may be half a size larger than I really need but I hate my toes hitting the front of the boot). I tried on the Alaska in both the 45 and 46 and decided to go for the 45 for a firmer fit hoping for a bit more control on the slopes. They normally feel quite snug when I put them on but after 20 minutes or so they seem to bed down a bit and the lining or my socks compress or something and then my foot feels very comfortable. Maybe a 45.5 (if they make it) would have been perfect for me but I have no regrets going for the smaller size. I recommend you try them on before you buy a pair of boots – any boots. There is no point saving a few bucks buying something online if you spend the next 10 years with a pair of boots that don’t fit properly.

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The boots are a bit higher than a normal hiking boot so I don’t normally feel the need to wear gaiters when skiing or walking around. I have never had snow come in the top of the boot although if you are walking around in very deep and/or soft snow gaiters would be handy.

Comfort

This is where these bad boys shine. I have never had any rubbing, blisters or discomfort. While they are intended for skiing, these boots also perform well walking up tracks to get to the snow and when hanging around camp. Just like walking in solid hiking boots and I have never found the duckbill to be a problem. My threshold for walking in plastic boots up a road would be about 20 minutes before I got really angry and started swearing – which means for some trips you may need to wear a pair of shoes to walk to the snow and carry your heavy plastic boots. With the Alaska you only need one pair of boots for the trip.

Bretto Rating: 9/10 (I deducted 1 point for clammy toe syndrome)

Would I buy it again: Yes

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DISCLAIMER ON SKIING ABILITY AND MY EXPERTISE: The opinions expressed herein are based on my limited experience of cross-country / backcountry skiing. I have had this setup now for 2 years and used it on about 7 trips ranging from day trips with no pack to overnight trips carrying a pack up to 25kg. Before purchasing this gear I spent a couple of years looking into different skis, boots and bindings and trying out a few different setups. This included hiring “backcountry touring” gear for a 3 day trip consisting of plastic boots (Garmont/Scott Excursion or Scarpa equivalent) and Rottefella Chili bindings. This was just horrible. The boots were so stiff and uncomfortable that me and my 3 friends (who had the same equipment) couldn’t wait to get the boots off. I acknowledge that if you buy your own good quality plastic boots and have them heat moulded to your foot it is probably much more comfortable and you will have much better control when going downhill and your feet will stay dry and warm. But if you plan on a mix of kick and glide touring, a few hills and hanging around camp I don’t reckon you can beat a leather boot like the Alaska 75.

Buying this gear isn’t cheap and you will hopefully use it for many years so I recommend you hire some skis and boots or borrow them from a friend to work out what type of equipment is right for you.

Full details of the bindings can be found here:

http://www.voile.com/voile-hardwire-3-pin-telemark-binding.html

Unfortunately no one in Australia stocks these bindings that I could find so you have to order them from the US.

More details on the boots can be found here:

http://www.alpinasports.com/product/alaska_75/225

If you live in Australia you can get the boots from these guys in Bright. No affiliation but great customer service. https://www.everestsports.com.au/

I purchased the skis and got the bindings fitted at EMC in Melbourne. No affiliation but always great customer service from Doug and the team: http://www.snow-ski.com.au/

And in case you are wondering the skis are Madshus Epoch 195cm. What can I say – they are long and slippery.

Trip Report: Mt Stirling with the Hard Core Hikers

Only 1 week after my kids trip to Mt Stirling I was back at Stirling again with a group from Melbourne’s Hard Core Hikers. The weather forecast wasn’t ideal but I was keen to get onto the mountain and cover a few miles so I left Melbourne at 4am to get an early start on the trail.20160820_Stirling_HCH_010

I had to walk for about 50 minutes from the car park at Telephone Box Junction to reach skiable snow. I wasn’t sure how steep Bluff Spur Trail would be and whether I would be able to ski down it so I took my snow shoes for the return journey just in case. It wasn’t very steep so I didn’t end up needing the snow shoes. Although unfortunately there was heaps of morons using the trails this weekend without skis or snowshoes and chewing up the track.

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It was quite windy and unpleasant at the summit. The surface was very icy in places and I had to hold onto this sign post to prevent myself being blown backwards on the flat ice.

It wasn’t the original plan but we camped at Bluff Spur Hut along with another large group of people building an igloo and a handful of regular people who were probably annoyed there was so many people there. There was probably 30-40 people camped there on the Saturday night. I ended up doing a few laps around the summit, past the GGS Hut and back to camp which was quite a nice circuit. It would have been good to explore the area more but the wind was quite unfriendly above the treeline.

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The Hard Core Hikers seemed to spend a lot of time drinking tea. These were the most Hard Core ones – the less Hard Core members of the group were sitting by the fire in the hut (where admittedly I found myself later having dinner). One of the members seemed pretty hard core as he was sleeping under a tarp.20160820_Stirling_HCH_023

Bluff Spur Hut provided welcome shelter from the near constant snowfall. With about 20 people in damp clothes, the wood heater going and 15 stoves running it go so hot and steamy I thought people would start taking their pants off. Fortunately someone cracked the window to ease the sauna-like atmosphere before people started putting their keys in a bowl.20160820_Stirling_HCH_029

It snowed most of the day so I cleared the snow off the tent before I went to bed.20160821_Stirling_HCH_036

And in the morning it looked like this. Clearing the snow by kicking and whacking the walls of the tent during the night worked for a while but in the end the snow had nowhere to go. I reckon we received about 30cm of snow during the day and night. It turned to rain and sleet on the second day.20160821_Stirling_HCH_042

My trusty snow shovel got a good workout when it came time to pack up.

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I thought I would take advantage of the fresh snow to ski down the untouched Bluff Spur Trail. The snow was sticky and slow (which suited me) but absolutely stunning as the snow-laden branches hung low over the track.20160821_Stirling_HCH_04520160821_Stirling_HCH_047

The mountain seems to be well signposted and if you have the Trail Map it is pretty easy to find your way around.20160821_Stirling_HCH_049

I practised my skiing for a while at Dugout Bowl. I am sure there are more graceful ways to stop than this. Unfortunately my skiing skills are even worse with a pack on.

It was not long after this I got smacked in the top of the head by a falling piece of ice/snow from an overhanging tree. It hurt a lot and I wished I had a helmet for trip back to the car.20160821_Stirling_HCH_050

The igloo people managed to construct quite a large igloo from snow blocks formed in plastic tubs. It took about 15 people approximately 10 hours to make. I think they all slept in tents but had they slept in it that would have been pretty hard core.

It was a good weekend with interesting conditions. I got to explore a new area and meet some great people who are passionate about the outdoors. Thanks to the Hard Core Hikers for organising the trip.

I would like to get back to Mt Stirling and at 3 hours from Melbourne it is doable for a weekend trip. A damn shame it costs $70 for resort entry! See link for Entry fees