Around Christmas, Backcountry Access (BCA) sent me a pre-production model of their new ski mountaineering backpack — the Stash Valhalla. I’ve used it during a number of backcountry days now, and it’s really cool. It has an awesome skin/helmet pocket so you don’t have to put your helmet and shovel in the same pocket. In other backpacks I have to put my helmet and shovel in the same pocket and the two hard, slick surfaces cause them to slide around instantly. By the time I get to the bottom of the run I discover that my shovel has gotten wedged horizontally in my backpack so I look like I’ve suddenly grown an antler out of my spinal column. Meanwhile my helmet has forced its way out of a tiny zippered opening in the pack that I never even knew existed and I see it rolling at about 60mph down the corn slope below me. So anyway, the separate pockets in the Valhalla help a lot — and when I do need my helmet I usually don’t need my skins, so they can relieve the helmet of its space in the pocket.
The only thing I didn’t like about the Valhalla is that the zipper pulls are big enough for King Kong to be able to open my backpack (not that he would have any particular reason to). I suppose this is a good thing in case I ever get stranded on a broken chair lift in the storm of the century. I could rip them all off the pack, tie them together and rappel of the chairlift to safety, and as a bonus get face shots all the way down (as the stranded skiers stare in envy).
Some other Valhalla features I like are that it has little pockets on the waist belt for stuff like sunscreen and candy, and it has good compression straps so the pack stays stable while I’m hucking 160 foot cliffs. As for weight, it’s nice and light for its size, and doesn’t have too many extra straps hanging off it. It also has the insulated pack strap for the hydration tube that is mandatory on all BCA packs. And speaking of hydration, instead of a water bladder the Valhalla came with a tube that connects to a water bottle. This is supposed to be the ticket for when it gets chilly enough for your sip tube to freeze through the neoprene sleeve and the insulated pack strap (I don’t think this has ever happened to me, but then again I wasn’t one of Shackleton’s men or any thing like that). The idea is that if the tube freezes, you can get out your bottle, unscrew the cap, and take a swig.
All in all I think it is an awesome pack, a huge improvement from the summer-hiking, non-ski-holding, worn-out pack I currently have. I’m looking forward to seeing the final production version — thanks BCA!