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Skis for Denali


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Hey all,

I am planning to climb Denali next year and use skis to either 11k or 14k camp.  My AT setup is pretty darn old.  I am pretty sure I bought them around 2005.

Scarpa Matrix 3-buckle boots (old yellow model)

180cm Volke Mountain Skis  https://www.freeheellife.com/170cm-Volkl-Mountain-Unmounted-Skis-Brand-New-p/1011.htm    Dimensions are 104/70/92

Dynafit TLT Vertical bindings.  No brakes and the old-style leash.

What I like about this set-up is that it is super light.  However, it is now about 13 years old, the bindings are loosing their spring and hard to get into, and the skis are very skinny and punch through crust easily, leaving me unable to turn.   I mainly use my AT skis to skin up peaks and get down.  I don't do a lot of back-country touring.  They are mainly to make a 4 hour boot descent into a 30 minute descent.

Any advice for a new setup?  There are so many different boots/skis/bindings out there that I figure I would ask around for opinions first.

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What month? Any interest in skiing the upper mountain?


I'd suggest something a little shorter in the 80-95 waist. Still light, and easier to manage when you factor in the sled getting down. Race bindings are nice and light, but pricey. More releasable and cheaper normal tech bindings will work, but are not nearly as light. On that type of terrain I lock them out and ski like I can't fall, because I can't. If you're not skiing them every day and only pulling them out for a trip like this or rainier I'd go for the race bindings. So sleek, so fast.


As far as boots, try on a lot. If scarpa fits your foot start there. Lots of great options. Go to a ski shop!


Enjoy the shopping experience, and practice those jump turns this winter, skiing the upper mountain is pretty dang wild. Highly recommend bringing the skis to 14.

Edited by keenwesh
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Late May start.  Most likely not skiing the upper mountain.  Just using the skis in lieu of snowshoes.   Having never been there, not sure if I want to try skiing the upper half.   I am thinking about bringing the skis to 14 so I can play on a rest or storm day.   Not sure though, bootwise, how to go.   Carry my Baruntse's up to 14 and switch over, or use ski boots the whole way up?  

As for my ability, I have been resort skiing since I was 5 (mid 40's now), so I can ski almost anything, though no longer nearly as aggressive as I used to be.  I no longer like to fall..because...well, it hurts!   I will continue to use my skis for mountains around here as my resort set-up is bomber for resorts.   What type of race binding do you like?

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If you are using skis to 11k or 14k they are transportation nothing more.  Find an old pair of the Silvreatta 404s or even 300 and mount them up. Adjust them for your Baruntse's. That will get you up the hill and back down.

The skiing to 11k is basically a long uphill, Motorcycle Hill can be skied or walked, we did both while acclimatizing for another route. Both take about the same amount of time and effort. Walking is easier if you have a sled cause you can go up rather than side hill where it will roll. I prefer drag bags. Above that you are at Windy Corner and yer back to a long uphill to 14k. Once at 14k if it is stormy yer probably not going far. And if nice weather head up with a load. Taking two pairs of boots is silly. Replace the weight and bring good food or booze.

If you want to ski the upper hill then plan for that. But given what you are describing that does not sounds like what you really are planning.

Edited by ScaredSilly
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If you have bad weather it’s really nice to take a real ski setup. As long as the boots are comfortable enough and you pair them with over boots wearing them to the summit is completely reasonable. I really don’t like 404s for anything other than short flat approaches, they’re heavy, clunky, skiing in mountain boots is terrible, and most of all, it’s less comfortable than a real setup. There isn’t anything technical enough on the west buttress to merit double alpine boots, the majority is easily skiable terrain.

If you’ve got the background I highly suggest going with the intent to ski the upper mountain. I skied the orient and it was the end of my first season on skis since I was a child. A far better day than summitting via the buttress, there’s just nothing like making jump turns at 18000 ft, sucking wind, in the biggest couloir you’ve ever seen. 


Plus, the skiing above 14 camp can be downright balmy...


Edited by keenwesh
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  • 2 weeks later...

In the 90s I had some silvretta bindings that could connect to climbing boots.  Not sure what the modern equivalent would be


I took them as far as the football field on Denali and skied slopes above when we were hanging out at the camp.  Taking a setup that far was worth it.



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I plan to try Denali late May as well.  I'm still on the fence about bringing skis.  My biggest concern is getting the right boot fit.  I hear over and over that I should go up a full boot size for Denali.  I really hate doing that because I end up with an oversized blister factory of a boot I can't use at home (I live in Colorado - and yes, I'm a whimp when it comes blisters).  If I plan to hike anyway above 14, any thoughts on bringing a second pair of boots for the hike?  I can get a pair of Barunste boots with a much better fit, plus I may use them out here from time to time...

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I wore baruntses to summit denali and ended up with silver dollar sized blood blisters under each big toe, those boots are shit. Heavy and clunky. I would recommend a boot that's a little more technically oriented, such as the phantom 6000 or whatever the comparable la sportiva boot is now, SM G2? Don't neglect the fit. Heading up a second time in ski boots (normal sized) was a massive relief for my feet.


I size up my doubles a little bit as generally feet end up swelling on long pushes where you've got everything cranked down tight to be able to climb hard. This is not the West Buttress. You could most likely make it up that terrain in sorrells with microspikes. If you don't size your ski boots overly tight, and feel comfortable huffing and puffing up a black ski run in a reasonable amount of time you will be fine.

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