Davo Karničar is a world-class extreme skier. The first man ever to ski down Everest and the first to ski down the highest mountains of all seven continents. And he did it all on a pair of Elans …
He first put on a pair of Elans four decades ago, spent his competitive years on them and then almost singlehandedly, persistently urging the management and the development department forward, began the story of Elan tour skis.
There are no champions in extreme mountain skiing. There is not even a universally accepted term for skiing down a slope you climbed up just an hour before. The boundaries between extreme, tour and backcountry skiing, and freeriding are not at all clear. But Davo Karničar’s famous achievements have all been accomplished far from the lifts.
An experienced mountaineer, he descended down his first eight-thousander, Annapurna in Nepal, in 1995. The following year, he skied down Shishapangma in Tibet. He got the most attention in 2000, when he became the first man to successfully ski from the summit of Mount Everest. Which marked the beginning of another never-before-attempted feat: skiing down the highest peaks of all seven continents, the holy grail of ski mountaineering.
After Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Aconcagua, Mount Kosciuszko and Mount McKinley, Karničar completed his mission in 2006 on the slopes of the Vinson Massif in Antarctica. He has also skied the northeast slope of the Eiger and the east slope of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc.
Developing skis for Davo and the market – Hey, is that the same ski?!
“The success on Everest boosted Elan’s development of touring skis, and three years later we launched the first collection on the market,” says Karničar. Before that, touring had been considered a sport for people who could not afford taking a ski lift, but the market showed otherwise. Today, touring is on the rise.
Davo has contributed to Elan by urging the company to produce touring skis, and has also played a vital role in their development. “My job is to put the skis to the test in harsher conditions than they’ll actually be used in. For Everest, for example, they needed skis light enough to carry up the highest mountain in the world.”
Since customers’ needs and wishes are not necessarily the same as Davo’s, Elan offers a wide selection of touring and backcountryfocused skis.
Freeriding skis are intended for skiing on a soft surface, whereas tourers can encounter a section of hard snow even on a relatively easy tour and have to be able to keep things under control.
“Personally, I like to have skis with a width of 8 to 10 centimeters underfoot, with an almost nonexistent sidecut and excellent torsional stability. If we can make a light ski that fits that description, that’s the ski for me,” Davo explains. The width prevents his boot from hitting the snow, even if the bindings are attached directly onto the ski. At the same time, the ski is designed according to the latest trends. Even for a regular touring skier who wants to be able to walk on any snow, this type of ski is much more suitable than the standard ski used in touring races, which only measures 6 centimeters underfoot.
What about a curved ski, featuring the rocker profile that is so popular at the moment?
“It wouldn’t be of much use on a steep and hard terrain, since it would make it harder to take your weight off the ski in turns. It would also make sideslipping more difficult,” says Davo, who definitely knows a thing or two about skiing technique.
Are there any other interesting facts about the development of ski touring equipment?
“There’s been considerable development in binding technology,” Davo says. “Bindings are much lighter nowadays. Because of the large width of the ski, they can also be mounted directly onto the ski. You have to learn to trust these extremely lightweight bindings. A lot of people still prefer bindings you have to step into firmly to hear them snap closed. It’s important to find a compromise between quality and weight. Boots have seen a lot of progress as well. The goal is to make them comfortable to walk in while retaining the feel of a normal ski boot.”
Manufacturers have a duty to raise awareness
Skiing on ski slopes is suitable for everyone, at least in terms of the physical fitness and knowledge of the dangers of snowy mountains required. What about ski touring?
Davo offers his opinion: “Standard knowledge of alpine skiing and experience with skiing on ski slopes using regular skis are an essential prerequisite. You have to have a certain level of skill before you attempt ski touring. But I see no problem with the increasing interest in touring at the moment.”
Does ski touring constitute an added value to travelling on skis?
The way Davo sees it is, “We don’t get much free time. When you take a day off, you ask yourself what would be most beneficial for your health, your body – what’s the best thing you can do for yourself. With alpine skiing, you’re only active for short periods at a time, and people often feel that’s not what they worked for all week. They want to do more for themselves. Whether they decide to go touring also depends on the availability of information on dangerous winter conditions in the mountains. There is always a certain amount of fear. Manufacturers can contribute as well.
They have to offer the essential avalanche safety gear, i.e., a beacon, shovel and probe, at an affordable price to go along with their touring skis. People would ask themselves why they needed it, they’d attend courses and prepare for the conditions in the mountains. It’s our duty to provide them with as much information as possible.”
This is one of the fundamental missions of the mountain lodge in Jezersko, which Davo has spent the last couple of years building and which is soon to finally open its doors.