All new Finnish made outdoor products are rare. Especially interesting and well working ones. This post is about one of the gems: OAC Kar 147 backcountry skis, or fastshoes, i.e. something between a snowshoe and a ski. In the post there is some background information, some numbers, my initial impressions and comparison to the Altai Skis Hok 145 the “original gliding snowshoes”.
OAC Kar 147 – the gliding snowshoe goes backcountry ski?
Not a ski, not a snowshoe but something in between. Natives of the Northern areas have always used also shorter skis with climbing skins for certain needs and inspired by the short skis of the natives of the Altai mountain the US-based company (with production somewhere overseas) introduced the Altai Skis Hoks: 125cm and 145cm long short and wide skis with permanent skin inserts. I had a pair of the 125cm model for test and published my initial impression on the blog about a year ago. In short: I liked them a lot. Loads of fun and good tools for forested areas in winter.
The Finnish importer of the Altai Skis is OAC and they wanted to change some aspects of the skis which soon lead to the birth of two updated skis based on the idea of the Hoks. The OAC still imports and sells Altai Skis Hoks but now they also produce and sell their own skis: Hok 145 like OAC Kar 147 and more XCD-ski styled OAC TAO XCD 160 – both designed and made in Finland! The TAO XCDs I wish to test later this winter when OAC gets the production running but this post is about the Kar 147.
The OAC skis are marketed as “backcountry skis” and the Altai Hoks as “original gliding snowshoes” and this seems to be somewhat true when comparing the Kar 147s to Hok 145s: the latter are a bit closer to snowshoes while the first are a bit more ski-like. Both are still in a category of their own being very short (for a XC-ski), quite wide and having permanent skin inserts.
Tools for travel: Madshus VOSS 205cm, OAC Kar 147, Altai Hok 145 and Atlas 730.
OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – side by side
Dimension-wise the OAC Kar 147s are quite close to the Hok 145s. The Kars are nominally the 147cm long and the Hoks 145cm long. The width is about the same (measured without any precision instruments): 128mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Kar and 124mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Hok. Both have also permanent skin inserts, full steel edges, a bit of camber, nicely raised tip and also some raise in the tail.
There are also differences: The most notable difference is different placement of the binding. On the Kar 147s the binding is placed so that the pivot of the X-Trace binding (or the pinline in 75mm NN binding) is on the balance point. On the Hok 145s the binding is considerable more forward, approximately about 10cm in front of the balance point. (In the Hok 125s bindings are placed on the balance point.)
Other differences include:
– Different tip and tail design: The tip of the Kar 147 is wider and doesn’t raise as much as the tip of the Hoks.
– The Kar 147s are also little bit wider on the tip, only about 4mm but wider anyway.
– And (something I consider important) the Kar 147s have about double the camber the Hok 145s have, when you strap the Kars together they fit a standard match box between them easily, the camber of the Hoks is about half of that.
Both feel about equally stiff though the Kars have more initial flex before stiffening towards the end when being pressed flat against hard surface. I assume this is because of more camber providing a longer flex range.
The Hok 145s weight 1892g per ski with the X-Trace Pivot bindings . The Kar 147s weight 1790g each with the same binding meaning the Kars are 100g lighter per ski. They are listed to weight 1150g without any bindings but as mine are clued on so can’t check.
OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – in real life
I haven’t had time to do very thorough testing (in my opinion that would take at least one whole winter season with varying use and conditions) with the Kar 147s and Hok 145s but I’ve used them enough to get on idea how they perform in deep soft snow and on packed trail in rolling, forested terrain. Both of the skis are equipped with X-Trace Pivot universal bindings and I’ve used them with Meindl hiking boots and Sorel winter boots. More on the binding to be written later…
N zig-zagging up about 25-30 degree slope. She hates steep stuff on normal skis but is quite comfortable with the Hoks and Kars.
I’ve skied around in gently rolling forests and flat swamps with deep soft snow, pulled sled on the track and off the track, climbed 25-30 degree slopes with soft snow and skied them down doing turns with my bad technique – and had fun all the time! And that is what the Hoks and Kars are about in my opinion: fun tools for winter travel.
Me going up…
… and trying some telemark on the way down.
And coming down again. Damn it’s fun!
The Hok 145s feel and act like the Hok 125s but being longer there is more surface area and thus they provide better floatation, a nice feature for someone in my weight class or if using them with a heavier backpack. Being only 145cm long they are still very agile in my opinion, basically just as agile as the 125cm version. (Take into account that I’m 186cm, for considerably shorter people the shorter version might feel more agile.) And as the binding is moved in front of the balance point the Hok 145s distribute the weight quite equally and thus sink in the snow in horizontal position instead of going “tail first”. The binding placement also gives them a bit more snowshoe-like feeling when compared to normal skis, or the Kar 147s.
The Kar 147s feel a bit more ski-like than the Hok 125 and even more than the Hok 145s. They track better on hard surface and are easier to control when going downhill but as a downside the tail of the ski sinks deeper than the tip in certain conditions (especially on soft snow on top of almost supporting layer of crust). I think this is because they have more camber and mostly because the binding is placed into the balance point as on normal skis. The advantages are clear and the downside is familiar for most people who use skis in similar conditions meaning that most can live with that but for some it might be an inconvenience.
The wider and flatter tip and tail work just as well as the more tapered and higher raised ones of the Hoks: the tip jumps on top the soft snow when gliding the ski forward and you can do 180 degree turn on hard surface just as easily as with the Hoks (but in both cases the skins stop you instantly and damn near knock you over). The Kar 147s also have slightly smaller skin insert which (according to the people of OAC) is made of higher quality material and thus it should give the same grip with less friction but as the test pairs I had were of different age, I can’t verify this. Both provide easily enough friction to haul a 60kg sled on hard surface, easily enough grip to navigate in soft snow on gently rolling terrain but not enough grip to push directly up 25 degree slopes with soft snow, those have to be zig-zagged up. The grip is naturally better on hard surface.
As a simplified and very much precursive verdict I’d say that the Kar 147s are still mostly like the Hok 125s I tested a year ago but with some differences:
“They work and they are fun.
They are very maneuverable and provide
decent good floatation.
Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises.”
This time the compromise is taken closer to a ski and a step away from the snowshoe. This gives better tracking, better control for downhill and more ski-like feeling but at the same time looses some of the snowshoe-like feeling in deep soft snow. And of course the bigger surface area gives better floatation. In my opinion the Kar 147s are more ski-like and thus well suited for people looking for agile backcountry skis or something to have fun on local hills. On the other hand the Hok 145s are probably better tools for traveling on soft snow with gentle terrain and also maybe better suited for people who plan to use them a lot without poles (photography, hunting, etc.)
Which ones you prefer, is up to you.
Availability & price
In Finland the OAC Kar 147 are available from the usual suspects like Partiokauppa (399eur with bindings, not in stock) and SOS (419eur with bindings, in stock. The best price I’ve seen this far, and the only retailer listing the Kar 147s also without bindings, is from Hiking Travel HIT at Ylöjärvi (near Tampere) who has them for 285eur without bindings and 390eur with the X-Traces.
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Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them. And unfortunately I have to return them.