Sunday, 5 December 2010

On Ski in the Antrim Hills *Updated*

At long last I managed to make it out, it just seems that everything else has been dragging me down recently what with working extra hours and various other commitments. I tried to get out on Monday as I wanted to make the best of the snow in case it didn't hang around but in the end didn't make it, with my car booked in for MOT on Tuesday I didn't get out and then my shift started on Wednesday.

It may have worked out better in the end though as we hadn't had much snow after the initial fall last Saturday but low temperatures kept it hanging around and eventually we had further snow showers on Friday which added a few more cm.

The plan was simple, drive up to Glenariff on Saturday morning, take the trails and forest tracks to gain the open hill and head for one of the tops before returning to the car. In the end I didn't get up until 10.30 as I was knackered after my shift but made an effort to get started ASAP.

It was quite foggy at low level but the roads were clear and as I gained height the fog cleared and I reached the forest park at about 11.45. Finding a parking space wasn't easy as all the lay-by's were full of snow, a Land Rover would have been useful. In the end I parked at the entrance to the forest park, the main gates being shut, and drove backwards and forwards to create a clear path for when I came back. I put on my skis as soon as I left the car and skied into the park before putting the skins on to climb up the path to flatter ground. I was too warm to begin with as I was wearing North Cape Long Johns under a pair of ME Liskamm trousers, a Uniqlo L/S t-shirt over which I had a North Cape zip neck and a Montane Dyno softshell. I stopped for a breather at a wooden shelter and should really have put the softshell in my rucksack but laziness prevented me.

I knew that I'd be pushed for time to make one of the tops so decided to simply stop at one of the small loughs, one of which was on my route anyway. It was quite chilly between the trees but warm where the sun shone through the gaps and fire breaks as I made my way along the waymarked trail before branching off onto one of the forestry tracks.

I made slow progress but eventually arrived at the edge of the forest and set off on a service road built to serve the nearby reservoir before turning off onto the open hill. The snow was deep in places but not of sufficient depth to completely cover the tussocky grass nor was it consolidated enough to completely carry my weight even with skis on.

Eventually after stopping a couple of times I reached Loughgarve in bright sunshine. The lough was frozen over as was the outflow so set about making something to eat as I was getting hungry by this time having somehow forgotten to pack any cereal bars or chocolate as on the move snacks.

I set up the MSR Reactor and started to boil up water for an instant pasta and a hot drink. Although I was in the sunshine I was right on top of a rise and once stopped I started to cool down but I'd brought my Uniqlo down jacket and after digging it out of the rucksack it provided the required insulation. Looking back down I could see that the reservoir was frozen over and to the west in the distance the fog was still lying on the lower ground towards the nearby town of Ballymena. I didn't spend too much time sitting around as I was keeping an eye on the time although I did take a few photographs.

With everything packed away I replaced the down jacket with my new Berghaus shell jacket and started to make my way back down to the service road. To be honest it took almost as much energy decending as I kept breaking through the snow and I was really wary about getting crossed up and twisting my knee again as had happen in January. My knee is weak as it's been hurt too many times, it's something I just have to deal with but it does make me overly cautious even though I've now got the benefit of release bindings.

Once I reached the service road I removed the shell jacket and continued along the road towards the forest track. The light was starting to change with the sky taking on a slight amber tinge and looking out over the Irish Sea towards Scotland I could see a band of, well something, rain/sleet/snow whatever but it wasn't heading in my direction. Once back in the forest I was able to take advantage of my tracks from earlier and soon got the benefit of a downhill run although it's fair to say that I could use a bit of glide wax.

Back on the waymarked trail I removed the skis and strapped them to my rucksack as there are a few short sharp climbs and a few steep winding decents on a very narrow track and my grip wax wasn't providing much grip for the ascents I didn't want to take out a tree on the decents. I stopped once more at the wooden shelter before making my way back down to the main road leading out of the forest park where I put the skis on again for the final few hundered metres back to my car.

I was pretty knackered to be honest but even though it was a quick outing I really enjoyed it. I love the snow and if it stayed around for the next 2 months I wouldn't be complaining. I'd have loved to have had a tent and camped out, that would have been brilliant.

The Gear.

Most of the gear I took has been used before with only a few new items to try, I love having kit that's tried and tested as I can just wear/take it and know that it'll work. The only stuff that was new was a pair of Karrimor Windgrip gloves with grip patches on the finger tips, thumb and palm. I wanted to get a pair of the Mountain Equipment gloves that Maz mentioned as they look to be just what I've been looking for but the Karrimor gloves were £9 from Field & Trek and as I was ordering some sleeping mats I added the gloves. They're nothing special to be honest, you can feel the seams on the inside but in use they aren't too noticable. They seem to be reasonably water resistant but aren't as warm as normal fleece gloves unfortunately, £9 is enough.

Another new item was a Lowrance Endura Safari GPS navigator but I'll look at it in more detail at a later date.

And finally a snow shovel, plastic with a removeable telescopic handle and branded as Garant I bought it at the start of the year in B&Q in an end of winter season sale. I didn't expect to need it but wanted to try it out. I used it as a table.

The rest of the kit was as follows.

Base layer.
Uniqlo Heatech L/S Top
North Cape Long Johns
North Cape Zip Neck Top

Mid layer.
Mountain Equipment Liskamm Softshell Trousers
Montane Dyno IBQ Thermaskin Sofshell jacket

Shell Layer.
Berghaus Pro Trek Gore Tex Jacket
Trespass 'Prusik' Full Zip Over trousers
Marmot Shell Gloves (unlined)

Head, Hands & Feet
Knit, fleece lined Earflap hat c/w 'Fur' trim (Tesco, about £8 IIRC)
Karrimor Windgrip Gloves
Wool Mix knee length socks (Horizon Merino Mix IIRC from TK Max)

I also took a spare pair of Mountain Warehouse windproof fleece gloves and an Uniqlo down jacket. I didn't have a choice of footwear as I was wearing my Gron-ell leather ski boots and Berghaus Yeti gaiters.

I took the MSR Reactor with a 100g cartridge and Primus foot rest, polymug and PET bottle, Barska Blackhawk 8x25 binoculars, Skins and wax for my skis, 1st aid kit, Trekmates bivvy bag (knee paranoia), Brusletto Nansen and my Micro Crampons. I carried it all in a Karrimor Alpiniste 45+10 rucksack. I like the Alpiniste, it's the 08 model which is much better than my late 90's/early 2000's model which is over weight and has way too many features. The Alpiniste has a very supportive hip-belt and together with the Fformatt back pad is stiff enough to take the weight of my skis even if it's only partly full. At 1350g it isn't superlight but the load carrying ability makes up for it.

As I mentioned most of the gear had been used previously, the North Cape base layer works a treat and as I bought it at £5 per item it's a double bonus, the heattech base layer from Uniqlo also works well, the ME Liskamm trousers are really good and if anything happened them I'd simply get another pair. I mentioned that to my wife earlier and she suggested that I should get another couple of pairs while they're still available, she changed her mind when I told her the price!!

The Uniqlo lightweight down jacket just continues to impress me, it's warm and packs down small, it's light and it doesn't leak down, in fact as far as down leakage goes it's far superior to my Mont-Bell ultralight down pants which retain down like a net retains water.

The MSR Reactor works, ok it's a bit bulky and a bit heavy compared to some but nothing I have that's lighter can come close to matching the performance/fuel efficiency.

Finally the Montane Dyno softshell, this one surprised me when I got it as I'm not really sold on the idea of softshell for anything other than legwear. That it's virtually replaced my old favourite, the Mountain Equipment Ultrafleece jacket says it all although the extra pocket is perhaps the one main advantage over the Ultrafleece jacket. It uses a fabric that isn't from one of the main producers, the fabric is IBQ Thermaskin made by the Spanish company IBQ. The Dyno in Thermaskin is no longer available, Montane seem to have adopted pretty much the same Polartec/Pertex fabrics as everyone else, the upside of that is that you can choose your softshell from any of the major brands and decide on fit/features rather than on fabric.

The Ski Setup

I looked at my ski kit a couple of years ago (see here) when I dug them out of the loft after they'd been left unused due to succesive mild winters and other commitments. At between 20 and 25 years old they certainly aren't cutting edge but at my skill level they do the job.

The skis are Asnes Sondre Telemark with waxing bases and full metal edges and a 9mm sidecut, they would have been classed as mountaing touring skis back then with the Nansen Mountain being a wider model with a 20mm sidecut. Mine are 200cm and measure approx 64/55/58 tip, waist and tail.

The bindings that were originally fitted were Rottefella Super Telemark 75mm Nordic Norm 3 pin. They were light but offered no release although voile had at that time just released a plate with a release mechanism to which you could attach the Rottefella binding. I didn't buy the release as it would have added another £50 or so to the cost. I now have a Voile releases cable binding fitted after injuring my knee last year, the story behind the release binding can be read here The main difference in use is that they don't have the 3 pins that locate in the corresponding holes in the toe extension on the sole of the boot but rely on a cable which goes around the heelof the boot. I wasn't sure how I'd get on with the cable binding but I actually prefer it as it removes the problem of snow getting into the holes in the sole extension when walking around without the skis.

The poles are again what would have been considered a mountain touring standard, made by Swix the 'Mountain' model has a hardened ally shaft, wide leather wrist straps and a wide basket with a hardened tip. Mine are 135mm.

The boots are leather and very stiff, made by Gro-nell they don't have a Gore-Tex liner but like many boots from back then they have a fast drying cambrelle lining. I've never waxed the boots as I didn't want to soften them but always used Berghaus Yeti gaiters. The great thing about leather boots is that once broken in they're super comfortable, fortunately I found them comfortable straight from the box.

The waxes came as part of a kit that the instructors put together based on a Swix wax kit but with some waxes swapped out for ones more likely to be of use to me in the UK, apart from the 2 hard waxes I have a tube of Klister which is really sticky, a cork for rubbing the wax in and a scraper for taking it off.

Finally I have a pair of Coll-Tex synthetic skins, these have a re-useable self adhesive back and are simply stuck to the base of the skis after hooking the buckle over the ski tip. The provide traction when it's too steep for the wax to grip.

How Heavy is it?

Pretty heavy by todays standard I guess, I haven't checked but curiosity will no doubt have me taking a peek at some Nordic ski gear websites.

The actual weight of my setup is as follows;

Skis and Bindings - 3560g pair

Boots and Gaiters - 2628g pair/size 9

Poles - 477g pair

Skins - 240g pair

Waxes etc - 240g

Total - 6145g


  1. Great photos, Richard! What is your ski setup (and their weights)?

  2. Hi Hendrik, thanks.

    My ski setup is pretty heavy I guess as it's over 20 years old. I don't know the weights but I'll weigh them and add the ski kit to the gear list on the main post.

  3. 20 years old, that is great! And it works still, really nice. Will check back in later then.

  4. At least 20 years old, I can't remeber off hand the exact date I bought them but it was on a course at Braemar Nordic Ski center (now Braemar Mountain Sports) I think the whole kit cost around £250, that would just about buy a pair of Scarpa T4 boots now but back when I bought my kit the boots alone cost what I earned in a week.

    Gear seems expensive now but in reality it's never been cheaper.

  5. you are certainly a riot of colour in all your kit there Mac! :D

  6. LOL, yeah I like colour, that I'm partially colour blind might explain the 'explosion in a paint factory' effect :-)

  7. Would really love to try ski touring, but have not yet been able to make the financial leap yet. I reckon I'd need a course before shelling out any cash...

  8. Great photos - pleased that you managed to get out
    after a difficult week.

  9. Richard -a great trip report, nice photos. Glad you got some snow there in NI. What is the weight of the fold down shovel ?

  10. Sadly, I am to skiing what Adolf Hitler was to diplomacy - I am an expert at getting up off the floor though. Deeply jealous that you can just get out there and ski with confidence.

    Great trip and some marvellous photos as ever. I agree with backpackbrewer - colourful to say the least - you'd never be missed if mountain rescue needed to find you! Also, I love that you used the shovel as a table - that's dual-use for you!

  11. Great pics and post as usual.

    You have a varied kit list eh? Not just on this post I mean - but in general. Good to see some of the 'lesser' brands tested, too.

  12. @ Fraser, I'd definitely recommend a course but you really need to keep at it, I didn't which is why I'm rubbish.

    @Trevor, thanks, glad to get out and heading out on Monday hopefully.

    @Mark, thanks, the snow came eventually but a bit more wouldn't go amiss. I just weighed the snow shovel and it's 530g

    @Maz, I don't ski with confidance but I do fall with style. I'm going to end up paranoid about my dress sense ;-)

    @Terry, there's kit from all kinds of places at all levels of pricing, if it works it works, if it works and didn't cost a fortune it's a bonus.

  13. Thanks for adding the weights, Richard. It is heavy, but it works and gets you outdoors, and that is what counts.

  14. My pleasure Hendrik, going over it all again was like time travel, took me back 20 or more years :-)

    It's heavy but beats ploughing through knee deep snow although I'd do better with snowshoes. I love the snow, in fact I'm more motivated to go out than I would be in summer. I was out today again, in fact I'm only just back from the hills but conditions were vastly different today.

  15. Skiing must be the best way to travel across country in conditions like that. Superb. I found the kit list very interesting and will google some of the kit mentioned.