Hok skiing on the North Country National Scenic Trail


I first heard of Hok skis several years ago from North Country Trail Association (NCTA) volunteers Jim & Jeri Rakness. They kept insisting that I really needed to try them out. At first, I couldn’t imagine what it was they were describing and, to be honest, I was a little skeptical. This is because I was quite happy snowshoeing, a favorite winter activity of mine. I’m lucky enough to snowshoe both for family fun and for my work for the NCTA. We usually scout and flag new sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail during the winter because we can actually see in the leafless woods and go more places when the ground is frozen.

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NCTA volunteer Bruce Johnson using Hok skis on the North Country Trail in Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest (Photo by Matthew Davis)

The last several winters here in northern Minnesota; however, have not delivered adequate snowfall for snowshoeing. So, last winter when I was invited to go out with some local NCTA volunteers on a backcountry ski outing I decided to finally try it. We went across a frozen lake and some connected wetlands/beaver ponds because there was only about 2” of snowcover on the ground. It was fantastic and love at first try with the Hok skis. This past fall, I purchased a pair of Hoks and anxiously waited for the first snowfall. I first tried them out at a January 2nd backcountry exploration hike in Itasca State Park (source of the Mississippi River’s headwaters). The conditions were perfect for the Hoks.

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Skiers and hikers explore the Itasca State Park backcountry (Photo courtesy of Kevin Cederstrom / Park Rapids Enterprise)

Several other hikers asked to try out the Hok skis during the event. All enjoyed them and one person bought a pair that night.

Spreading the word at NCTA’s Winter Trails Day events

I also thought that backcountry XC skiing with the Hok skis would be a great addition to our Winter Trails Day events where we typically introduce people to snowshoeing. Last winter, I had only one attendee at a free Learn to Snowshoe Clinic because there just wasn’t enough snow for people to get excited about trying it. While this winter has delivered more snow than last year, it’s still not deep enough for me to need snowshoes – which are pure work to walk with when they’re not needed for flotation. I was hoping that the inclusion of the backcountry XC skiing component and having pairs of Hoks on hand for people to try out would attract more interest. That turned out to be the case.

On January 30th, we hosted a Winter Trails Day event at the MSUM Regional Science Center just east of Fargo, ND. While the crowd was small (there was a big winter festival going on in town), everyone there was excited to try out the Hok skis. We found a little patch of wind drifted snow in the prairie and people skied around and enjoyed themselves. Several participants commented that they were going to look at buying a pair. We hosted a Winter Trails Day event on February 6th at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area in Detroit Lakes, MN that drew a good crowd. While most admitted they were there to try snowshoeing, several did venture out on the Hok skis and had an enjoyable experience.   A few inquired about where they could buy a pair. Later that afternoon, we had a new participant show up for our guided hike/ski on the North Country Trail and she really enjoyed it. After these experiences I’m convinced that if people interested in winter sports will try a pair of Hok skis they’ll love it. Many will want to purchase a pair. I can envision a time – maybe five or ten years from now –when local outdoors stores in northern Minnesota will carry Hok skis. At this same time, our guided winter events on the NCT will feature equal numbers of snowshoers and Hok skiers.

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A new skier trying out the Hok skis at the Winter Trails Day clinic at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area (Photo by Matthew Davis)

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Jim & Jeri Rakness and I enjoy the NCT on a Wildlife Tracking Trek (Photo by Matthew Davis)

Top 5 reasons why Altai Hok skis are perfect for the North Country Trail:

6 Responses

  1. I have both the 145cm and 125cm Hok. The 125 is better length for skishoeing the North Country Trail/Finger Lakes Trail Conference in Central NY state. Hiking trail goes through rolling glacial hills with lots of direction changes and ups and downs over hummocks.
    I have 2 pair of the 145 – one with 75mm bindings, one with Solomon backcountry – SNS XA. The 125 have the old Xtrace binding, but the new Xtrace Pivot is better especially if you have larger feet or Sorel, LL Bean, boots.

  2. We just promoted Skishoeing at the Outdoor Adventure Expo in MPLS this past weekend and there was interest. One gentleman said he hasn’t used his XC skis or snowshoes for his BWCAW ice fishing trips since buying Hoks. There should be an article about skishoeing in the next issue of MN Trails magazine too.

    You can rent and try out Hok skis in Minnesota at Maplelag Resort in Callaway and rent them for off-site use at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply in Grand Marais and Sawtooth Outfitters in Tofte. Visit //altaiskis.com/try/.

    1. Completely understand that gentleman’s comment. My 145 Hoks put my Rossignol BC 125s out of a job for the my BWCA trips. I picked up a pair of 125 Hoks this fall to try on the Superior Hiking Trail.

  3. Looking for sizing recommendations. I live in Duluth, will mainly be using on trails up the shore, BWCA, winter camping, and maybe some trips to the UP (deep snow). I know how to classic XC and downhill, although not great at either. I feel the 125 will be a better fit, but I’m also 6′ tall and 220 without winter gear. Will 125 be too small?

    One other question, on downhill, do you mainly turn using a telemark turn? Asking because I have a toe issue that makes it tough to lunge.

    I’m glad I found some local MN users to ask. Any suggestions/comments are appreciated. Thanks.

  4. Wow. Just bought a couple pair of the 145’s. Only had a chance to try it in some sloppy spring snow, but I’m hooked. I do winter BWCA/etc trips and these will replace my snowshoes, and unless crust skiing on lakes is great, I won’t bring XC skis either.

    Outside of the longer pulk trips though, I’m most excited for those random storms where I just want a couple hours outside and can find a few nearby hills to cruise laps on. You know…the 6″ storms that happen on a Tuesday afternoon where you aren’t going to pay for an evening $40 lift ticket, it’s not deep enough to justify prancing around in snowshoes, and if you’re an adult you’ve probably moved on from sledding. This is the answer. Get some exercise, get some fresh air, get some turns in and repeat as necessary.

    MN and/or Twin Cities peeps – if anyone finds a cool hill that’s not too treed out and keeps snow, please share and I’ll do the same. Have fun!

    AltaiSkis.com – if you need a regional rep in any way, I will be that guy. I’ve downhill skied forever, started doing XC several years ago, and tolerate snowshoes as a means to an end. I’ve boot-packed to get 75′ lines with alpine skis. I’ve tried scooting around in the snow in just about any way someone from the Midwest can but this is a game-changer. This is legit “it makes sense to back-country ski in MN now” stuff. Selling these to Minnesotans ought to be simple, so like I said, I’m happy to help. I’m planning on evangelizing the poop out of these regardless… but I’d be even better at it if I didn’t need to work elsewhere. Consider this my cover letter.

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