Sunday, 7 February 2010

bad skiing conditions = don't use Rottefella BC Auto bindings

Finland is a great place for cross country skiing, but sometimes the weather conditions are not what the seem to be and disguise conditions which you may think of as being ideal, but are really rotten. This weekend was a prime example.

We were intending to have an easy weekend and ski out to a cabin in the national park about 60Km from our place (at Repovesi).

We've had excellent snow falls and temperatures have remained below zero for almost all of the winter. With the temperature at around -5°C it was almost perfect to go out, even if it was a little overcast with a light dusting of snow falling.

We set off from the car and despite it being 30cm (at least) thick snow cover (making going less than easy) we hit our first patch of water under the snow, which accumulates above the ice, but hidden below the snow. This is really shitty stuff to hit when its below zero because it freezes to your skiis fast, and turns them into in bloody great heavy clumps on the bottom of your feet.

This was of course annoying.

We were close to a small island, which being higher ground would be a good place to clean off the ice and get going free from water. We re-evaluated our route and made it across the remaining part of the lake to the shore where we intended to head to a road to get us to the next lake we had to cross.

In case you didn't know it, Finland has lots of lakes.

Things went again nasty as we were crossing a clear cut section of forest where Anita broke a pole and it took us about 20 minutes to go about 200 meters. With deep snow and bad holes to fall a leg into its not wise to take your skis off and attempt to walk. You may break a leg and it will probably take as long anyway. Better to simply swear a bit and keep going.

I had a spare pole with us, so we kept going to the next part.

We only made it to the red arrow before we hit water again, and we had to turn back to the shore to de-ice the skis again.

This time my bindings froze open as I was getting my boot out. To me this high lights the weakness of the Rottefella BC Auto bindings, they chock up with ice real bad.

The problem is from the design which is intended to make it easy to release you ski without bending over (probably cos your either too lazy, too old to bend over or (in my case) ), you press in the middle of the depression (probably with your ski pole) to release the binding. That the plate needs to go down to allow the release; so two different problems can arise.
  1. Ice can form in the space under that button, preventing you getting your boot out of the binding
  2. Ice can form in the space where the red arrow points above preventing the biding from closing again.
Worse, you can get ice jammed all around the slot too, essentially welding your boot to the binding ... this happened to me later.

The boot toe pin fits into the slot where the left hand arrow is pointing.

This is a major issue for using these bindings in back country where you may encounter water under the snow. I would recommend to anyone doing back country skiing to never uses these bindings when going to places where you may get water and therefore ice formation.

Even without this issue, walking around can fill up your boots and clog this slot, so make sure you take a metal tool to clear the pin clamp and clear the ice from your boots.

This is not the first time I've had trouble with these bindings, the first time was in spring 2008 when trying to get to a place. I needed to cross some tricky rocky areas which needed a lot of backing and forwarding. Snow got trodden under my boot and formed a layer of ice between the arch of my foot and the binding. No problem, just a little uncomfortable. Until you go to take the ski off. As you can see in this picture of my gear back when I wrote this review. There is a black arrow on a silver plastic tab:

well this plastic tab slides back into and under the black part of the binding when you press down on the front to release it. When it is jammed up with hard packed snow it can not slide back and you can not open the binding. This is really annoying, and can in fact be life threatening if you need to remove your ski's quickly and can't (such as falling through the ice).

I contacted Rottefella about this back then (lovely people by the way, and thanks for the new rubbers too) and they reported that they knew of this issue but that it wasn't often a problem. Perhaps this is true in Canada or Norway, but in Finland its all too common in back country.

We gave up as we were only half away and still had at least 2 more lakes to cross before getting to the hut. If this was any indication it was going to be bad. On the way home (crossing the first lake which caused us problems) my boots froze up solid on the binding and I could not get the boot off the ski when we got to the car.

These really old style bindings and gum boots (with a special toe) are ugly but functional no matter what the conditions.

These are popular with hunters and outdoor workers who need to ski because: they work no matter what.

They can keep working with ice on them, and better still the boots allow you to use changeable felt liners so you keep your feet dry when you are out for a few days.

I use these felt liners in my Asolo boots pictured above, but my wife's NN 75mm toe Rossignol boots do not. Her boots are fine for day use, but if you got them wet inside (do your feet sweat??) it'll be all ugly the next morning putting on cold frozen boots. Also unlike my bindings, her 75mm toe bindings were fine with ice chocking them.

So these Rottefella BC Auto bindings are really only for work in areas where you'll be close to a warm area and not facing any difficulties. Hardly Back Country if you ask me.

I will be trying out the BC Magnum next, as these are similar to their other Manual range which (having looked at them) seem to not suffer this problem.

I'll letcha know

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I also switched from Auto to manual BC binding (still Rottefella) having found it very hard to open the Autos while not standing on the skis but lying in deeper snow, with a pulk attached and feed positioned higher than the rest of me. For Back-Country I recommend only manual bindings