Skirafting, or packraft and skiing
Ski mountaineering, is a combination of packrafting and cross-country skiing or skydiving. The choice of skis depends mainly on the terrain on which we intend to travel. If we choose a lowland river, traditional cross-country or backcountry skis will suffice. However, if it is a mountain river (e.g. Dunajec River) and we are going to return through the mountains, it is better to choose skis (note: rafting on the Dunajec River in winter is prohibited in the section that runs through the National Park).
Skiff areas can also be found in less obvious places, such as the Baltic beach, which is sometimes covered with a layer of snow or ice. For such open areas, we should pay special attention to the strength and direction of the wind. Dangerous for the packraft is a strong wind from the beach of the so-called “beach”. offshore – then it is best to abandon the rafting trip. The route is planned to move upwind on skis, while rafting should be downwind and close to the beach.
In winter we usually transport the packraft in a backpack. In milder terrain we can pull the packraft like a sled, filling it with the remaining luggage. In this case, the light packraft offers little enough resistance that I often glance behind me to see if it’s still there. Thanks to the low weight of the kit and low friction forces, we also do not need a specialized harness. Since weight optimization is of great importance in packrafting, it is best to use the equipment we take on the trip anyway to prop up the packcraft. We can attach an empty packraft to our backpack with a rope, which we will later use to cinch our luggage to the packraft.
Skis fit perfectly into packrafts. They do not increase their width or height, so we can float even on more difficult rivers – unlike rafting with a bicycle, which increases the height of the craft and makes it impossible to pass under low obstacles. Raising the center of gravity also makes the packraft much less stable. When rafting with skis, these problems do not occur.
In longer packrafts with ISS (Internal Storage Systems) and TiZIP lock, we can put the skis with poles and boots inside the sideboards.
Traditional cross-country skis without steel edges do not require additional protection and should not damage the packraft. We will need a special cover or wrap the skis in the material in case of transporting backcountry skis and skis for skis, the sharp edges of which could cut the material while overcoming some obstacle. Since we have only one compartment and rafting with skis is done at low temperatures, we should be extra careful in this regard.
Cross-country skis attached to a packraft (phot. Daniel Tokarz)
Cross-country ski boots, because of their comfort and lightness, are well suited for packraft rafting. As a result, we do not need to take additional footwear. Since the legs remain stationary during the float, you may want to consider using chemical warmers, which greatly increase comfort.
Theoretically, we can also float in skydiving boots, but there are risks involved. After a possible capsize, swimming in such shoes or removing them quickly would be very difficult. Therefore, for a rafting trip combined with skydiving, we should take additional trekking boots. Ordinary footwear will also allow us to move easily in case of some kind of malfunction or lack of suitable conditions.
When attaching skis to a packraft, we need to secure them very well. Keep in mind that while the paddle is designed to stay afloat after falling into the water, the manufacturers of skis did not assume until now that someone would swim with them. Therefore, the possible detachment of the ski from the packraft, can cause it to sink – in deeper water, the ski can be lost.
Taking skis on a rafting trip, we can also return to the starting point of our adventure using the wind and kite – this snowkiting. For this purpose, it is best to use a lightweight chamber kite that does not require pumping, but fills itself with air. These kites are ready to launch in just minutes after being pulled out of the packraft, and most importantly, they take up very little space. We also do not need a pump, which would further increase the weight of the kit. Let’s remember that open-cell kites are dedicated only to landkiting. The lack of an air chamber on the water would cause them to sink, or not be able to restart. However, their advantage on land is that when you hit the ground hard, you won’t puncture the chambers. They also have much more thrust than their pumped counterparts with the same surface area, plus the skis offer very little resistance to the board on the water, which usually has to float buoyantly. The use of a special trapeze or an ordinary climbing harness to relieve the strain on our arms allows us to move in this way even for a whole day.
Snowkiting (fot. Daniel Tokarz)
Packraft and skis are really a great combination to explore virtually any type of terrain in winter. A lake or river encountered on the route turns from an obstacle, into an additional attraction, a completely new experience. From the perspective of the river, the world looks different, the current carries us in silence, we become part of nature, which begins to accept us. The sight of animals drinking water without paying attention to us will always be memorable. A must for you to experience it!