Wow. That’s my take on the backcountry skiing segment this year. The pace of innovation appears to have reached a new level, especially in boots. Combined with new binding system from Salomon, as well as premier avalanche beacons, airbag backpacks and so much more, wildfire!
When the backcountry skiing gets rough, the tough go sledding. A guy has these rodel sleds at OR show, this shot taken a week or so ago in Austria, when Fritz got me going on the joys of road gliding on the rodel. More info below. Was the Avalung essential? Only my sledding guide knows for sure.
Ortovox Zoom + avalanche tranceiver will go retail early next winter, will replace F1 and Patroller, includes their 'smart antenna' technology and signal analysis, limited features for multiple burials. $249 MSRP makes owning a transceiver much less of an issue for the new backcountry skiers out there just itching to join our sport.
All this will ultimately benefit you WildSnow readers, as the competition and volume will at least have a moderating effect on prices even as quality and function increase. More, in my view we’ll also see an increase in “price point” gear that combines quality with somewhat reduced cost, thus allowing easier entry into the sport for everyone.
Thinking through above, as always we need to be concerned about exactly where all the backcountry skiing newbies are going to go. Is slackcountry the new backcountry for all these folks? Do we need more trailheads, more parking? More guides? More huts? Truly, I enjoy covering those issues more than I enjoy writing about gear, so perhaps the pace will pick up and we can do more coverage in the land use arena. But for now I’m here in Salt Lake City, and bow at the temple. More highlights:
No term limit on Doug Coombs. New Coomback ski retains same build, but gets new graphics that'll be renewed in a 3 year cycle, with iterations showing phases of Doug's life as a ski legend, Jackson, Bridger, Valdez, La Grave. Beautiful idea, and a percentage of sales still provides significant financial support for Doug's wife. When K2 comes up with excellent stuff like this, they just leave me speechless. They've got a new, lighter weight price-point shovel as well, ski pole improvements, and so on.
Backcountry Access becomes an ever more dominant player. For next season they've re-worked all the Float packs. Simplified with fewer zippers (no back panel access, no more 'file cabinet' confusing array of endless zippered compartments) and nicely installed plumbing, the packs weigh significantly less and are very competitive with other brands in terms of weight. For example, the Float 20 model will mass at 5.5 lbs. That is light. More, the plumbing will easily move from pack to pack, colors have progressed from basic black. Helmet carry is integrated so you won't lose it (hint, helmet good idea when using airbag). Trigger can be mounted right or left side, and so on. When looking at these I couldn't help but think I was witnessing a MAJOR transition in design style.
BCA announces Tracker 3 avalanche beacon, available next fall. Fully 20% smaller and lighter, marking/masking for multiples, if you're tired of trying to pocket beacons the size of a queen mattress, nice to see BCA tightening it up.
I got turned on to rodel sledding while in Europe recently. Kind of a basic and less extreme version of tobogganing, done on snowpacked roads and places where the angles are not too steep and you can do a lot of gliding. Enjoyed by the old, young, skiers, non-skiers. Hike up the road to the restaurant, have a few beers, and glide back down to parking. Perfect for those years when the snowpack is less than ideal. We need more of this sort of thing. Saw this one at the OR show, being made and sold by a guy in Canada. We'll see if we can do some WildSnow rodel action.
Patrick (left) of Mystery Ranch explains their Blackjack avy airbag pack to Joe. MR has been carefully developing this pack, with much influence of ski patrollers. Refined retail version will be on the mountain shop pack walls starting this coming fall. Improvements over previous incarnations we've tested include less weight, no tool required to deflate bag, and an interesting interior accessory system that's probably too fiddly and weight adding for most normal users, but could be nice for those who want the ultimate in compartmentalization.