Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Altai Hok 125 – Initial Impressions

Generally I’m against initial impressions and support thorough long-term reports but occasionally there are good reasons also for writing about initial impressions. And I think, this is one of those occasions as the Altai Hoks are relatively new product and the best season for using them is under its way at the moment. So, here are my initial impression of Altai Hok 125 skis with X-Trace universal bindings.  As I weight nearly 100kg I wished to test the 145cm long version but none were available for test (and I don’t think any are available for purchase either, at least not from Finland).

The tools of choise for the initial testing.

The Skis

Well, they are not exactly skis in the traditional Nordic meaning of the word but the Hoks are closer to skis than to snowshoes so lets call them skis for a while.

The Hoks are 125cm long, erm, short and about 12cm wide and relatively light making them very maneuverable. Those interested in numbers can check Dave C’s posts: Altai Hok: by the numbers, Tools; choices (for comparing different options) and The 145 Altai Hok (for those interested in the longer option providing more floatation). The skis are built with wood core covered with fiberglass mixed with organic materials. The bases are smooth sintered polyethylene (the typical ski base stuff) and have a large glued-on skin insert in the middle and are finished with 3/4 steel edges. The skis have metal screw inserts for the standard 75mm Nordic Norm bindings (with three inserts for a heel pad) and thus also fit the X-Trace binding and there is an adapter plate for NNN BC and SNS BC bindings.

There is not much camber and it might not even work with very short skis like these. The tip has a generous amount of rise that lifts the ski on top of snow by just pushing it forward (no need to “walk”, it’s more of a motion of kicking and gliding but without much glide because of the skin) and there is also some rise in the tail. The little side cut and raised tip and tail makes then turn super easily on down hill!

The skis and the sled in camp near Patvinsuon National Park.

The Bindings

The Hoks are often sold as a package with the X-Trace universal bindings. The word “universal” means that you can use them with about any boot or shoe that has relatively flexible sole (so a no go with plastic ice climbing boots and similar).  The X-Trace is a Finnish design binding that uses snowboard binding style straps and flexible base plate. The toe strap is mounted on a fixed front piece and another strap wraps around the ankle and is mounted on a heel piece that can slide on the flexible plastic plate to adjust the size. The size i.e. the length can be easily adjusted on 8cm range which wasn’t enough for my size 46 Sorel Caribou boots but there was plenty of extra space on the flexible plate so making extra notches for adjustment wasn’t a big deal. I recognize that the binding should fit size up to 46 hiking boot without any problems (manufacturer claims fit with EU sizes 35-47,5) but the big Sorels were a bit too much and felt lined Sorels larger than size 47 or 48 are simply too big even with extra notches. The straps were barely long enough for the Sorels but for even bigger boots, there are extra-long straps available as accessory. I’ll write more about the bindings when I have more experience with different footwear.

The Use

I’ve had the skis only for a bit over a week now. I’ve used the skis on a short test run in the backyard forest and on four-day winter trip near Patvinsuo National Park in Eastern Finland. On both occasions I was wearing size 46 Sorel Caribou felt lined boots. On the short test run I was looking for the wort possible ground without a backpack or a pulka. I crossed blown down trees, ditches, climbed over some big rocks and pushed through dense forest.The skis proved to be very agile and maneuverable and on steeper down hills they glided nicely and on safe speed but on subtle slopes the skin inserts prevent real down hill skiing. Floatation was quite good but there wasn’t that much snow for a real test, maybe some 30cm.

A swift little down hill on the test run: easier and faster with the Hoks than with snowshoes or traditional long Finnish skis.

On the four-day trip I was pulling a Fjellpulken Explorer 168 sled weighting something over 30kg fully loaded. The terrain was varying but mostly we skied on small lakes, swamps and in woods. There were no big hills but occasional little slopes, banks on the shores, ditches to cross and one fucked up boulder terrain. Other people on the trip were using 225-280cm long traditional Finnish forest skis and the Hoks turned out to be a lot more maneuverable in the woods and the skin inserts provided plenty of grip for pulling the pulka and tackling little obstacles on the way. The down side is that on good open terrain they are slower than long skis because of the skins but they are still a lot faster than snow shoes. The floatation was decent even though there was occasionally over half a meter of snow. The tip rises really nicely on top of the snow by just pushing the ski forward. I recon that the 145cm model would have been better for me providing more floatation. The weather on the trip was also frigging cold with lowest skiing temps being -36C. It is advised that the bindings should not be used in temps lower than -30C but not skiing wasn’t an option and the bindings coped the use well.

Fucked up place to go with a pulka. Here shorter skis make easier going.

The Impressions

They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent floatation.

The Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises. In my opinion the biggest compromise with the Hoks is the permanent skin insert which slows them down though also adds to the agility of the skis. It might be the only sensible option for skis like this but I’d really like to see a version with fish scale base and detachable skins (like the Madshus Intelligrip but a lot wider) or skin inserts (like the ones Åsnes has). The bindings are also quite a compromise. I like the ability to use any kind of footwear with the skis but they were not especially convincing, convenient or light weight. But untill I get to use something better I’m happy with them. The Icetrek Flexi bindings seem like an interesting option but they are quite expensive.

I’d personally rather have the 145cm long model to get more floatation as I believe it would be just as maneuverable as the 20cm shorter version. I have a trip plan for the next winter where the 145cm Hoks might be just the perfect tool…

Judging by the limited experience that I have with the Hoks I’d say they are killer tools for certain conditions and I see the Hoks suiting well for:

– Traveling in dense woods, especially with lots of soft snow. The maneuverability is invaluable and floatation good enough.
– Shoulder season trips when there is still some skiable snow left or you are expecting year’s first heavy snowfall during a walking trip.
– Hunting, photographing and doing other things that require agility and maybe occasionally going without poles.
– Having fun! Hoks are fun and provide a good way to have some exercise in the backyard woods or to tread trails in the deep snow around the house or a cottage and so on.

As I saind the Hoks are not skis in the traditional Nordic sense, neither are they snowshoes. Based on the snowshoe = slowshoe word play the Hoks are often called fastshoes which is very apposite name in my opinion. My friend translated fastshoe to “vauhtikenkä” in Finnish and I’ve called them “pätkäsukset” (shorty skis).

In my opinion Hoks do good job replacing snowshoes unless you are heading to very steep hills with hard packed snow (say hiking up for some off-piste snowboarding or climbing a mountain). They are agile enough for gathering fire wood, moving in and around camp, for hunting in woods, etc. From my point of view the Hoks could also replace long traditional Finnish forest skis if loosing some speed and ease of going in easy terrain is tolerable. The floatation is good enough and when hauling a sled the extra grip is nice. The Hoks could even replace steel edged fjell skis but that would mean loosing a lot of speed so I wouldn’t personally go there.

But if I could have only one pair of skis… I might nor have skis at all. I’d have fastshoes, the Hoks.

Availability & Price

The 145cm version seems to be out of stock every where in Finland though I heart that there might be some available at Kalevan Prisma in Tampere. The 125cm version is readily available from the usual suspects like the Varuste.net that sells them with X-Trace bindings for 295 euros.

– – –

Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland (the importer and distributor of Altai Hok skis and X-Trace bindings) lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them.

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21 responses to “Altai Hok 125 – Initial Impressions

  1. Mikkel Bølstad 05/02/2012 at 23:06

    Thanks for the review! I’m still sitting on the fence regarding them, as I do like to glide on my skis – walking downhill sounds a bit daft. They do look perfect for bushwhacking, though.

  2. korpijaakko 05/02/2012 at 23:19

    On subtle down hill you have to ski, not really walk but still kick and glide. And on down hill the glide is naturally better than on flat terrain. On steeper down hills they glide without kicking and turn really easily.

  3. Antti Tirilä 06/02/2012 at 10:57

    I’ve had these (the longer ones) for a week now and after few trips into forests around the house I can confirm that they are lots of fun! At least so far 🙂

    I also wish the HOKs would glide just a little better. I compared the two lenghts in shop and noticed that the skin lenght is the same for both skis. Which means the longer ones may glide a bit better and grip a bit less. I also got some waterbroofing skin wax which should improve gliding as well as prevent ice buildup in warmer temperatures. I haven’t yet applied it so cannot confirm this. Hopefully soon!

  4. DJS 06/02/2012 at 13:44

    Thanks for the initial report. Seems like a nice compromise for finnish woods.

    On other things, I have to say I like initial report, long term report + occasional comments more than the living/rolling reviews. I’m still a bit confused about how the updating will work, will I miss something if I don’t check the reviews regularly…

  5. Il Dolce Far Niente (@seakayakingetc) 06/02/2012 at 16:56

    Thanks for sharing your initial thoughts. Very tempting, indeed. However, I’d be curious to learn more e.g. progress in other than powder conditions, with a backpack etc. so if you get another chance later this winter, would be great to hear more.

  6. korpijaakko 06/02/2012 at 20:44

    Antti: The longer Hoks may quite likely have better glide because or more non-skin covered base area. I waxed the skins with regular soft glide parafin to prevent icing but in those temps there wasn’t any. I used some spesific skin wax in Svalbard and it prevented ice buildup quite well.

    DJS: Compromise, yes. But apparently a good one. I also support the three stage structure of initial impression (when justified), the review itself and a long term follow up.

    Il Dolce: I’ll be using the Hoks for few more weeks so I’ll try to do also other things with them. At least they glided really well (compared to powder snow) on plown but snowy road.

  7. Rämpi Mähönen 06/02/2012 at 22:28

    I bought this week from Scandinavian OutdoorStore. Only after few kilometers the skin tears off the bottom from the sharp corner of the upper part of the skies 😦 Have you checked the skins? My theory is the non-elastic glue which makes it tear off in the freezing snow (last weekend almost -30 Celsius)- Luckily I’m gonna get the new ones when I phoned to customer service.

  8. DaveC 07/02/2012 at 02:55

    Interesting that the skin is the same length on both sizes. I’ve used both now, but so far apart and in such different conditions that I can’t compare the two well.

    Just back from a three day trip with the 145 Hoks, Voile 3 pin bindings, and my modded plastic tele boots. They did great skiing tight trees in thick woods going over a ridge. I had fun while my friends on traditional nordic skis were barely getting by. Then crossing the frozen lake the situation was reversed. They’re not a substitute for nordic gear, or alpine touring gear, but for the zone between the two are ideal.

  9. korpijaakko 07/02/2012 at 19:42

    Rämpi: Skins in my Hoks are still all good and skied with them in well below -30C.

    DaveC: Agreed. A compromise, but a good one.

  10. martin cooperman 08/02/2012 at 17:30

    Jaakko,
    I’m also looking forward to your comments as you use them more. And also if you manage to get a pair of 145’s to compare.
    I live in Cleveland, Ohio USA and our woods look a bit like the woods you show in one of your photos.
    Unfortunately we have no snow at all, all winter. It’s warmer than usual and sunny. Horrible!
    Marty Cooperman

  11. Alicia 17/02/2012 at 07:56

    Any look into or compare these skis to the Marquettes made in the UP of MI???

  12. korpijaakko 17/02/2012 at 14:12

    Hi Alicia! Unofortunately I don’t have the possibility to compare the two as Marquettes are not imported to Finland (and I can’t afford buying a pair even though I’d like to). I guess the Marquesttes glide a lot better (no skin) but they are heavier and lack the steel edges. DaveC has been using both so it might be worth asking him! Links to his blog posts can be found from my post above and he has also commented here.

  13. martin cooperman 17/02/2012 at 15:44

    Alicia,
    Dave has a very thorough review on the Backpacking LIght site. You have to be a member to view it. http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/altai_hok_ski_x-trace_universal_binding_review
    Dave says the Altai Hoks are much superior to the Marquettes, which, he says, are made of inferior technology. He has tried them both.
    Marty Cooperman
    Cleveland, Ohio

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  16. Il Dolce Far Niente (@seakayakingetc) 19/02/2012 at 19:10

    One more request if you don’t mind 🙂 i.e. would you be able to take a couple of short video clips while exercising Altai skis next time? Textual feedback is always good of course but would be nice to see them in real action from some different situations.

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