In the midst of advancing snowshoe technology, Francois Sylvain and Nils Larsen (who calls northeast Washington home) conceived of Altai Skis and the Hok, a product that melds the qualities of a snowshoe and a ski.
The Hok combines the maneuverability and ease of use found in snowshoes with a ski’s efficiency of sliding forward rather than lifting and stepping with each stride. A synthetic climbing skin is integrated into the base of the ski, and the sustainable paulownia wood core, reinforced with organic natural fibers and fiberglass, makes it lightweight and flexible.
Altai offers two sizes, 145cm and 125cm. Mountain Gear in Spokane sells and rents them for $15 a day. I stopped in recently and picked up a pair of 125cm to take out for a day of “snowshoeing.”
Mountain Gear also had a choice of bindings: 3pin or universal. The 3pin binding required a specific boot, and, since my goal was to see how well the skis did for a recreational user, I chose the universal. I also elected for a set of poles.
The next day, I strapped the Hoks to my snow boots and went out near Lookout Pass with a couple of friends, one on snowshoes and one on a skinned split snowboard. The first part of the day, we followed groomed and cut trails, but as we got further in, I was able to forge new trail in deep, fresh snow. The Hoks were perfect for this!
On the uphill, they worked admirably. Because I wasn’t used to them, I did experience minimal sliding at first. But after I got the feel, the synthetic skins gripped nicely. Flat out, I was impressed with how well the skis glided along the snow – not too much and not too little. They had the perfect amount of slide and maneuverability to make each step more natural than the last.
The real challenge came with the change in terrain. Climbing was easy. Coming back down was more tricky. Due to their short length, Hoks do not respond as a normal ski and make it challenging to slow down on a hill. Their website recommends taking a downhill in switchback turns, but when the space you have to work with is narrow, this is problematic. With time and practice, however, I am sure this is a skill that can be developed with ease.
Overall, I found my rental Hoks highly enjoyable and simple to use. Compared to snowshoes, they are smoother and faster. Compared to skis, they are lighter and easier to work with, especially in deep snow. I highly recommend trying them out!