Xmas-Tree Cliff - Blackcomb 99
As we approach another sliding season here in Ontario, I've been thinking of skiing the trees again. After four years on the Altai Hoks/Koms using the Tiak (single-pole), I've come to some realizations. For perspective, a quick background on me as a slider.
I'M NOT A GREAT SKIER.
Growing up on Vancouver Island, I started skiing at Mt.Washington with my Uncle and Aunt around 7yrs old. A 'highlight' of skiing was a trip to Whistler/Blackcomb with my buddies when I was 18. Luckily, I escaped injury when loosing a ski on a jump-turn at the top of a narrow double black. Tumbling down the massive slope over and over and over and then falling off a 10ft cliff at the bottom onto a cat track is still a memory of my intermediate skill on skis.
At 19 I tried snowboarding for the first time. A black and pink Kemper board with hard boots. I snowboarded ever since and never went back to skiing. Snowboarding took me many places: Different mountains on the Island, a volcano in NZ, three amazing years at Whistler/Blackcomb - the final year being the La Nina year of 98-99 where 1,693 cm fell. That year I was grateful to get 110 days in riding. I became pretty good on a board and did all the crazy runs and big cliff drops that I wanted to do that winter. If I had to choose my favorite type of riding, it would be in the trees.
Since moving to Ontario in 2000, I've still snowboarded every year (the tree runs are not as fun - although they are getting better with more and more glades being cut). I've also gotten into other sports. I played goal in hockey; something I always wanted to do as a kid. Fell in love with SUP surfing on Georgian Bay. We also used Yupis.. a gliding snowshoe (made in Whistler)
to have fun in all the snow we get around this area. Then I discovered the Altai Hok skis in 2014.
SKIING WITH A TIAK
A tiak ("Tie-Ack") is a single wooden pole or 'staff' for those middle-earth nerds. It is the traditional way to ski for the Altai people in Northern China and for early skiers in Norway. The poles were probably spears for hunting and protection in the earliest times.
When I first got sliding on the Hoks I was drawn to the Tiak. Not being a great skier, the tiak gave extra support as it created a third balance point. I quickly realized I could get the speed I wanted by pointing the skis straight, while using the tiak to help in turning. It is kinda like paddle surfing on a SUP - you can lean on the paddle a bit to assist your balance and initiate turns.
Once I was used to going straight for more speed and using the tiak to help turn, tree runs became fun again. In Ontario the trees can be 'tiiiiiight' so sometimes turning is not an option. You just don't have the space to bring your skis around. If you're a good skier you might be able, but it can slow you down and you loose flow. For experienced tele-skiers, you may have no problems skillfully striding around tight hardwoods.. and for that I admire you!
What I am saying is that skiing on the 145 Hoks or Koms with the tiak are great tools for tight tree runs. The skis are shorter so you can turn tighter, the tiak gives you stability & turning assistance. Also if you need to slow down, lean back on the tiak and you have a pretty good brake! It's a different sport then tele-skiing and it's not for everyone... but for those who want no-fuss backyard skiing in the trees - it's a good time. There is another reason a tiak is a good option for tree runs...
This video is an example of hokin' ultra-tight trees which I DON'T recommend.. and wear a helmet! But to note: This was my 3rd run on this line. I had hiked up and went down slower to check for traps and get comfortable so I could increase speed.
WHAT'S UNDER THE SNOW MIGHT HURT YOU
Deciduous trees drop alot of branches. This creates alot of hidden traps lurking under the snow surface. Of course it is best to wait until there is a deep snow base before running trees. Or if you have put in the work to clear the debris in the off-season, then you should be all good. But sometimes there is a hidden branch or rock that catches your edge.
When skiing double poles you have a more upright stance, with the tiak you're in a sitting stance - this helps in 2 ways:
Some advice when skiing an unkown tree run on the hoks: Take your time and pick your line. Go slower the first run and check for any traps. Like I said before the tiak is also a brake, so you can control your speed. Once you know the run is clear of traps, you can hike back up and hit it again if you want. Just remember - it will be a faster down since you've made a track! Also trees are hard - where a helmet!
A nice 'open' line in deep snow.
BUT WHAT ABOUT TOURING WITH A SINGLE POLE?
I get this alot. While it maybe easier touring with double poles, I'm not sure they are better for hiking slopes in the trees. Considering ancient skiers/hunters used single poles in the trees for thousands of years, there must be a benefit. I have found the tiak works well when climbing a steep treed slope. From the bottom, look up and pick your line. Look for trees on the diagonal that you can traverse, or 'connect the dots'. When approaching the first tree, stay on the downhill side of the tree with the tiak in the downhill hand. Take your free arm and grab/lean on the tree, plant your tiak in the snow with the other hand. Then step turn the skis around the tree while pushing down on the tiak and using your free arm on the tree to help the movement. After that, traverse across to next tree in your line and repeat. I find with this method, going up steep slopes with the tiak is much easier for me then with double poles.
BUT DON'T WIZARDS USE STAFFS?
It is true... wizards have controlled the staff market. But from the wizards I've talked to they are becoming more and more open with non-magic people wielding them. Times have changed, and I think it is now safe to use them. I'm not sure if Ninjas mind though...
OK FINE, I'LL TRY A TIAK.. WHAT SHOULD I USE?
If you want to give it a go, any straight-ish, sturdy branch will work. Not an old branch off the ground that will break.. don't be lazy. New wood - bark removed preferrably ;).
The tiak tripod stance
If you like it and want to upgrade, you will want a pole that is strong enough for your weight, but not so heavy that it is a burden to lug around. Altai sells Tiaks made of 1 1/2" diameter Lodgepole Pine. The length is not crucial.. but longer is better.
Click Here to learn about how the tiak is used traditionally by the Altai people in North Central Asia. Written by the creator and owner of Altai Skis, Nils Larsen.
BETTER SKIER vs HAVING FUN
Finally, if you're determined to be a better tele-skier then you probably don't want to switch to a tiak - it's not going to help your form ;). But if you're out there for fun on the Hoks or Koms, I'd recommend taking a tiak into the forest... it might grow on you.
If you have any questions about the hoks or the sport of ski-shoeing contact me at email@example.com