Hybrid 'Hok' Ski Borrows From Centuries-Old Design

The Altai Mountains of central Asia are a birthplace of skiing where for centuries herdsmen relied on horsehair-covered planks to traverse the rugged land. A new company, Altai Skis, takes inspiration from those ancient techniques with a unique backcountry ski advertised to blend the qualities of snowshoeing and Nordic-style skiing.

This winter, I’ve been testing Altai’s Hok model, a stubby wood ski with steel edges and a climbing skin integrated into the base. They cost about $200 and come with two binding options, three-pin or a universal binding that cinches onto any winter boot.

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Traditional Altai style (left) and the Hok ski, a modern version

I skied in the company’s universal bindings, which fit snugly on my boots and were comfortable on the move. Striding in the company’s 125cm ski, I have put many hours on the Altais this winter in rolling woods and backcountry areas that I would normally hit with snowshoes.

The skis’ short profile allowed me to go over uneven surfaces, including tromping through the woods. I could make quick turns and adjustments to my line thanks to the metal edges. Best of all, I was able to glide over deep snow, something not possible in snowshoes.

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Universal binding

While the indigenous people of the Altai Mountains use a single pole to control their skis and move about, I used my trekking poles, which worked just fine. If you want to go the traditional route, the company recommends a pole that is slightly taller than your height for single-pole propulsion.

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In my tests, in a foot of snow, I had no problem staying on top of the pack. While I like to snowshoe, there is often a bit of an awkward gait. Not so with the Hok ski — their profile is thin enough that my stride was unaffected.

While the glide is slower than Nordic skiing, I went faster than I expected down moderate slopes. The synthetic skin on the base gripped better than my fish-scale Nordic skis going back up.

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Traditional Altai skiers use wood skis with horsehair for grip and a single wood pole

Overall, I had fun on the Altai skis. They are not speed demons. But they are faster than snowshoes in a lot of terrain, and the glide factor makes them faster, and more fun, going back down.

Related content: For a similar ski concept, see our post on the “part snowshoe, part ski” Marquette Backcountry Ski.

—Pam Wright is a contributing writer for GearJunkie and an editor at UpNorthica, a publication on canoe camping and the North Woods.

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Altai skis for flat terrain and going down

Posted by t.c. worley - 02/20/2012 01:32 PM

Karhu used to make something like this. Tough to find them now, but they were awesome.

Posted by corgimas - 02/20/2012 07:02 PM

Yep karhu made the Meta and the karver……two different profiles of skis exactly like these….(iirc one set was 136cm and one was 127cm but wider)..llbean then had karhu brand one of those for their own sales as well…..
Super sweet product that did not sell great……….too bad since i think that a lot of people would also love them

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