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Some Tips for Making Better Performance Backcountry XC Ski Gear ...

What's a "Performance Backcountry Skier"?  A person that likes to use cross country racing gear for backcountry and remote trail skiing.

What's the problem with current xc racing equipment?   It seems that most every new step forward for cross country racing gear is usually a step backwards for those that want to use the gear off impeccably groomed trails.   Race skis with no tips can't ride over rough terrain.  Ski boots that don't breathe and have no insulation cause your feet to be wet and cold after skiing all day.  Poles with tiny baskets are worthless off groomed trails.  Ski straps that you can't get on and off quickly are inconvenient and dangerous in backcountry situations.  The list goes on.  Nowadays it's nearly a futile search to find race level gear that works "off the corduroy".  Eventually you may give up the search and start customizing race level equipment to fit your needs.  And you may find yourself doing some things like I've done below ...

~  Carbon Fiber Ski Tips  ~

The problem: Modern day racing skis with low profile tips auger into the sides of ski trails ... resulting in your leg almost being ripped off your hip, and you being slammed down onto the trail.

The solution: Put tips back on your skis!!  It's pretty easy ... just takes a little carbon fiber material, epoxy and a few pop rivets.  If you look at my skis in the pictures linked to crust.outlookalaska.com - you will see these tips in use.  I swear by them ... they allow you to use skate skis "off the corduroy" without worrying about tip-less skis taking you down!

A 5 gallon bucket like the one above makes a perfect form for carbon fiber ski tips.  In the groove of the bucket lay down the following wetted in epoxy: 1st layer - carbon/kevlar weave, 2nd layer - carbon fiber weave, 3rd layer - carbon/kevlar weave. When the the epoxy cures, remove the composite and mark the shape of ski tips (trace around the tip of a classic ski). Once you have the outline of the tips scratched on the composite, use a Dremel tool to cut the tips out. Drill two small holes in the ski tips and using small and lightweight aluminum pop rivets attach the tips.

~  Carbon Fiber Boot Stiffeners  ~

The problem: You will be out for a long day or multi-day trip and you only want to bring along one pair of boots but you don't know if you will be classic skiing or skating.  Skating boots don't double well for classic boots, and vice versa.  And normal combi-boots are often too soft and sloppy for skating for any extended period of time (see picture at right).

The solution: Time for some home-brew carbon fiber fabrication!  You can make carbon fiber sole stiffeners just like the top end skate race boots have.  You can put sole stiffeners in the boot for skating, or take them out for plush classic skiing!

First get some epoxy resin and hardener, and some carbon/kevlar or pure carbon fiber composite material. Like the ski tips above, wet and lay down 3 layers and sandwich the laminate between plastic. Put some weight on the carbon fiber sandwich and let it cure overnight. Finally, trace the shape of a sole on the hardened composite and cut out with a Dremel tool.  Note: these carbon fiber stiffener plates go on the footbed of your ski boots UNDERNEATH the insole.
Note: These sole stiffeners are very thin, but extremely stiff ... and weight next to nothing.  They will make combi boots, like the Salomon Pro Combi or the Active 8 Skate/Classic stiff enough to be good skate boots.  These carbon stiffeners can also make the comfortable Salomon Skate 9's as stiff as the Carbon Pro's.  And they will turn Carbon Pro's into rock steady sprint racing weapons.

Carbon fiber, isn't that high tech stuff that's tough to use? 
 Did you make stuff with paper mache in grade school?  Then you can make useable, maybe not pretty, carbon fiber stuff.

How do you learn to build with carbon fiber composites?   Use Google to search the web for building with carbon fiber composites tutorials.

Where do you get carbon fiber composite material?   Use Google to search the web for composite material suppliers.  Often ebay has scraps for sale.  You may have a good composites store near you (and they usually have folks that can help you get started).

Isn't epoxy super stinky and dangerous to use?   New epoxies, like West Systems, are odorless and safe.  As far as cutting composites with a Dremel tool ... be VERY CAREFUL not to breath carbon fiber dust.  Wear a mask, eye and hand protection, do the cutting OUTSIDE and wash any dust covered clothes immediately.

Isn't carbon fiber wicked expensive?   A yard of carbon fiber or carbon/kevlar fiber weave will cost $40-$50.  But it comes 54 inches wide.  So say you are making 3 layer sole stiffeners - you can get about 8 pair out of this much carbon fiber.  Add in the cost of the epoxy and the total is about $10 per pair.  To cut costs - go in with friends or sell the ones that you don't need.  Heck, if the word "Swix" or "Salomon" was printed on these, they'd probably retail for $129.99 a pair!  So if you sold them for $25 a pair you'd recover your costs pretty quick.      TK  2/1/06

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