Praxis Backcountry Ski Review

I really didn’t think I needed another pair of skis, but apparently N saw a hole in my not-insubstantial quiver late last year. One that could be filled with a pair of Praxis Backcountry skis. While I was skeptical at first, I realized that not only did they fill an admittedly small hole in my quiver, they are now replacing some of my other skis.

Praxis is a freeride oriented ski company based here at Lake Tahoe, one that builds their skis in house. While most of what they focus on are powder and freeride skis, the Backcountry model is designed for people who want to earn their turns efficiently, but not necessarily compromise the descent.

Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds

Skiing the Praxis Backcountry inbounds

Coming in at a little over 7 lbs in the 170 length, the Praxis Backcountry ski is a lightweight ski that doesn’t sacrifice weight for performance. Its dimensions (131/106/121), camber underfoot, and rockered tip and tail combine to create a versatile ski design for a wide range of snow conditions. I took the Backcountry with me on a recent ski trip to Canada, and found it skied well on a variety of conditions. But I’m jumping ahead.

This particular model has been around for a few years, but apparently there were some significant changes made this year. The skis have carbon fiber in the construction, which helps reduce the weight. Carbon fiber had been an option in the past, but this year it was included in the Backcountry by default. This allowed Praxis to include maple hardwood around the edge of the ski core. If you think of a tennis racket, where the torsional stiffness comes from the ‘frame’ of maple around the edge and tip / tail areas, that’s what the Backcountry looks like inside. For the tech nerds out there, this core design is enabled by the CNC milling machine at the Praxis factory, and makes it a bit different than the typical ski.

Praxis at Mammoth

Praxis backcountry at work in-resort

While weight tends to correlate to stiffness, these lightweight skis are also stiffer than any other backcountry ski I’ve owned. See the tennis racket analogy above. This is not a bad thing, and was particularly useful when at the ski resorts. I found no chatter at higher speeds, even on firmer snow conditions. It had great edge control on the groomers, and the front rise plus turn radius meant that short turns and bumps, while not my preferred ski style and terrain, were doable.

In the backcountry, these skis really excelled. They climbed easily, and even with the tip rise, my skin tails stayed on. Certainly they ski well in blower pow, but they really shine in variable (read: backcountry) snow conditions. I really noticed the feeling of not being as spent after a longer climb, which translated into me enjoying the descents much more.

That said, there were some growing pains. They were hooky at first, and I had a hell of a time on groomed snow, which I found out later was because they were edge high. But after N, aka the Ski Valet™, spent time detuning the edges in the rocker zone, and put a slight base bevel on the edges underfoot, the issues went away.

Praxis builds its skis in three stiffnesses – medium, medium/stiff and stiff. According to the Ski Valet, my Backcountry’s were medium, which was the standard stiffness for that model. Custom stiffness options are available at no extra charge, which is awesome.

Unlike other skis I’ve been on that are designed for the backcountry, the Praxis is a versatile ski that can hold its own both within resort boundaries and outside them. It was an ideal ski for our recent ski safari.

More importantly, it’s a ski that’s fun to ski on, which, to my mind, is the whole point.

Help Sierra Avalanche Center by saving money on lift tickets

Kirkwood powder skiing

Skiing at Lake Tahoe isn’t just about the ski resorts.  While I’m a huge fan of them, and have spent many memorable days on their respective slopes, I’m also a passionate backcountry skier (who appreciates a good deal).

As such, I’m a donor and supporter of the Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC), a local non-profit that promotes safe backcountry travel through regular avalanche advisories, education and events.  Most importantly, it provides the only daily avalanche forecast in the region, an incredibly valuable resource for backcountry users.

SAC has partnered with many Lake Tahoe area ski resorts this winter to raise money through its SAC Ski & Ride DaysDiscounted lift tickets are available online, with all of the proceeds going directly to support the continued operation of this regional avalanche center.

This season’s fundraisers include the following dates at the Lake Tahoe ski resorts:

•$50 lift tickets to Northstar California valid on, January 29th-31st
•$35 lift tickets to Homewood Mountain Resort valid on February 3rd-8th
•$45 lift tickets to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows valid on February 3rd-8th
•$50 lift tickets to Heavenly Ski Resort valid on February 5-7th
•$35 lift tickets to Mt Rose-Ski Tahoe valid on March 3-10
•$50 lift tickets to Kirkwood Mountain Resort valid on March 5-7th
•$35 lift tickets to Sugar Bowl valid on Sunday, March 17th
•$35 lift tickets to Sierra-at-Tahoe valid on any Sunday-Friday (except holidays)

In addition to lift ticket savings, each SAC Ski & Ride Day will feature Q & A sessions with professional avalanche forecasters. Skiers and snowboarders can demo avalanche safety gear, and learn about avalanche conditions and items related to backcountry travel and recreation.

Support the Sierra Avalanche Center by purchasing SAC Ski & Ride Day lift tickets here. And feel good knowing that your terrific deal is helping sustain this important resource.

Desolation Wilderness Under Snow

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

Not a bad day at all.

I wanted to celebrate my new year with a big day out.  I wanted it to be somewhere new, and ideally involve winter snow.   The latter was of particular importance because my birthday falls in what locals call ‘Juneuary’.  Corn tends to be more plentiful than powder, and typically I have to go elsewhere if I want to get my snow fix.

This year I got both of my wishes.  N and I had been discussing heading back into Desolation Wilderness, and our friend Meghan kindly told us of some lines that hold winter snow weeks after a storm.  Lucky for us, she wanted to play too, so a posse of four telemark skiers set out from the Emerald Bay area early-ish on Saturday.

Skinning above Dicks Lake

The views were well worth the climb.

Our route involved some up, some down, lots of snow, very few people, and plenty of sunshine.  And views.  While I have spent a lot of time in the Desolation Wilderness, it’s been in the summer and fall mostly, so seeing it under snow gave me a whole new perspective.  There are a lot of skiable lines back there!

Backcountry skier above Lake Tahoe

She was right about the snow.

Despite my inherent skepticism, Meghan was right.  You can still find untracked powder, even in Juneuary.  Which we did.

It was a great start to my new year.   Yes, getting older sucks, but when it’s celebrated like this, it’s actually not all that bad.

Skiers crossing lake

Heading back after a fun – and full – day out.

Winter is back – really!

After what could optimistically be described as a disappointing ski season last year, it appears that Mother Nature is trying to win back Lake Tahoe’s affections.  She succeeded this month, with a series of big storms that left up to 94 inches of snow before and after Christmas.  The ski resorts couldn’t be happier, and frankly, neither could I.

The timing has been awesome, as many local’s season passes are blacked out during this holiday period, reducing the bum rush to get the untracked powder.  We’ve enjoyed relaxed days at our favorite ski resorts, lapping areas that typically are tracked out in minutes. Despite the holiday crowds, we also found untracked snow and few people at some of our favorite backcountry stashes as well.

While the snow volume appears to be slowing down for now, cold temperatures are forecast for next week, ensuring great mid-winter snow conditions will stick around.  At least until the next storm shows up.

Need proof of the awesomeness?  See below.

Trimmer bonus run from TahoeJenn on Vimeo.

Skiing Freel

That old saying about the third time being a charm rang true this weekend.  Twice before we’ve attempted to ski Freel Peak, and twice before we’ve been stymied.

Yes it’s been a weird season here, but March’s robust snowfall encouraged us to try Freel one last time.  Route finding, time constraints and high winds were the limitations in the past, and with two of the three not a concern, we decided to go for it.    I had very low expectations about the quality of the snow, but as we’ve had little in the way of big backcountry days here, I figured it would be one of the last big days of the season.

Getting to Freel is always a bit of a slog, no matter how you go.  At 10,886 feet, it’s the highest mountain in the Lake Tahoe region, though it doesn’t directly overlook the lake like Mt. Tallac.  As such, it requires an approach.   N suggested a different route than we’ve taken in the past, which ended up saving us time on the traverse and energy on the ascent to Star Lake.  This meant that we both felt fine by the time we hit the ridge just under Freel (and above Star Lake), which has historically been our turnaround point.

Threading the needle

Threading the needle

We gained the ridge, which had more snow than I had seen from afar, and saw a wide and not so steep bowl on the backside of Freel.   It looked totally different than I had envisioned, primarily because my experiences with Freel were either seeing it from the Tahoe Rim Trail or from further away at Heavenly or at lake level.  The side that I’ve seen is the more forbidding front side, which has some interesting looking chutes, but appears to be pretty steep and wind-hammered.  The backside, where we skied, is a gentler, wide open bowl.

Tracks & trees on Freel

Winds had picked up by the time we approached the summit, so we opted to stop at a protected rock outcropping at 10,600’ and then do a high traverse into the bowl and ski from there.  After savoring the views, naturally!

Wet powder descending Freel

Spring powder?

Snow conditions on the descent were variable, and included windboard snow at upper elevations, ‘warming’ winter powder above 8200’ and then gluelike “snow” the rest of the way down.   We had a few chuckles over our need to pole downhill in a few places, and my power wedge moves in the super sticky snow.    Suffice to say not many photos were taken during that part of the descent.

Consolidated snow above High Meadows

Below Freel, above High Meadows

Actually getting to Freel was the day’s objective, which we did. That was what made the day so awesome.  Knowing what we know now, our next goal is to do this trip in much better snow conditions.  After all, that could be an awfully long powder run if timed right.

Snow, cougars and the hope for a big March

Fresh snow and Sierra views

It was worth the climb.

Lake Tahoe hasn’t caught much of a break this winter.  First there was no snow.  Then there was snow, but not enough to make up for a dry December (and November).  Then came more snow, followed by spring, followed by cold, then more snow, followed by hellacious winds.   Backcountry conditions here, which are typically stable, have been anything but of late.  As a result, there have been two rare fatalities within the last week.  And a lot more digging of snow pits.

So, this winter.  It’s not over yet.  And many of us are holding onto the hopes that March comes in like a cougar and leaves like a lion.  Or something like that.  Next week is already looking promising.

Despite my natural tendency towards pessimism, I’ve made a conscious effort to make the most of the snow when it hits, and today was no exception.  Yes, high winds had affected the snow and lift operations at many local ski resorts, but we knew that moderate angle north facing trees would probably deliver.  And they did.  Boot top powder, deeper in places, and super light thanks to overnight temps that hit the low teens and didn’t really feel much warmer by the time we got out there.

N making steezy hippie powder turns

N making steezy hippie powder turns

It was just a quick morning lap, but the snow was good, the rocks were few, and I actually passed a few folks on the uptrack, confirming that maybe I don’t suck as much as I think I do.

Here’s to next week delivering even more snow. With far less wind.

Returning to Winter

Two boards, two guys, one slope

Two guys, two boards, one run

After a week of backcountry powder skiing in Canada, I was a bit worried about the conditions we were coming back to.  With no Internet connection for the week, I wasn’t sure what, if anything was in the forecast.  The snow gods must have sensed my concern, because the night we returned, it snowed.

Skiing to Lake Winnemucca

Threading the needle above Lake Winnemucca

Cold temps and a second sleeper storm later in the week meant that we were still finding powder stashes through last Friday, which boded well for the holiday weekend.  We knew we’d have to share the snow, but figured that there was enough terrain at Carson Pass for everyone’s tracks.

Views of Lake Tahoe from Alpine County

Views of Lake Tahoe from Alpine County

Yes, not all the rocks are covered, but we were pleasantly surprised with both the coverage and the snow conditions.   Sunday’s trip yielded windboard, powder, and big grins.