1. WildSnow Dream Package, Cripple Creek Backcountry. DPS Wailer 99 Pure seasoned with G3 ION LT, stirred using Dynafit TLT 6 and spiced with Pomoca. Just add snow.
2. Arctic Cat 2016 M 6000 SE snowmobile. Please don’t hate me. You have to admit it’s radical!
3. Canadian powder dreams. Book a catered stay at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Price: Quoted per number of participants/days. We like Valhalla because they combine wonderfully varied terrain with snowcat access to their lodge. Unlike helicopter access, baggage weight is not an issue and good (snowy) weather won’t cancel your joy.
4. The tried and true North American made avalanche airbag backpack is the BCA Float 32. Refined mechanicals, excellent durability and carefully tuned weight vs features, we keep trying other avalanche airbag backpacks and somehow the BCA units end up on our backs more than any others. Is it an American bias? Perhaps. But they work. This year’s rigs have a very nice adjustment for your height. In our opinion, many of the airbag packs out there feel too “short” on your back — especially with more weight. Easily adjust the Float. The air cylinders are refillable. That’s a plus as well, though we’d recommend not going whole hog on the DIY and getting your refills done at a certified refill center (see BCA website). I just checked availability and price, Float is ON SALE!
5. We’ve concluded that the most radical puffy for most sub-arctic ski touring is a “one pound” down hoody stuffed with high loft “water resistant” down. You can find a number of such jackets, one we’d recommend is the Mountain Equipment Lumin, at a good price from Backcountry.com.
6. This blog post can’t go by without us including a Dynafit RADICAL binding. In many ways, the Radical (version 1) FT model is in our opinion the proven standard. Some of these bindings were flawed and we hesitated recommending them, but that’s taken care of now and you’re good to go. Key is once you get the binding, compare to information in our blog post here and make sure you have the upgraded version. If not, return immediately. Otherwise, enjoy! Get a deal here. Also know that the latest Radical — 2.0 — has a completely redesigned heel unit as well as the new rotating toe. We feel these are probably a player, but due to past experiences with virtually all brands of ski touring bindings, we hesitate to include the 2.0 in a shopping guide until it’s had a good round of consumer testing.
7. The absolute best ski tuning vise out there: Eggbar.
8. Ardbeg 23 Year Old 1991 (cask 10274) scotch. From the “small remote Scottish island of Islay (pronounced ‘eye-lah’) where Celtic monks found refuge from raiding Norsemen and early distillers smuggled their illicit…” Wow your mates when you casually pour this $609.00 scotch into your hot cocoa.
9. We’ve got a paper copy of Skialper magazine Gear Guide kicking around HQ. Online versions cost much less and are indeed useful, but the thick paper version is super cool. Expensive (due to shipping from Italy), but what a neat gift for the ski touring fanatic in your life. Can be consulted all winter, then kept in the family library for years of comparo shopping used gear. Shopping info here.
10. One of the latest Canon Rebel cameras will give you just about anything you could ask from an SLR, only in a very small package. I’ve used quite a few of the Canon Rebel series as well as their G series. While the G series is incredible, for what’s pretty much a point-and-shoot they’re rather heavy and klunky. For really only a few ounces more and the effort to figure out a carrying system, you can upgrade to a Rebel and be much more enabled for things like serious ski photography and creative work. Caveats: The battery life on the new Rebels is said to be limited, and in our experience the menu systems are overly complex. But they do work. A spare battery and tweaking a few camera settings is probably all it takes to handle the power issues.
An expert, in some literature, is defined as someone who has 10,000 hours of practice. Fully 10,000 hours of any activity is a tremendous amount of time. I ski tour day in and day out each winter. Get 10,000 hours of that? Might take some years but it’s possible. On the other hand, I don’t do transceiver searches, mock rescues, and strategizing for how to evacuate injured people day in and day out. These skills get rusty.
But things happen, people get hurt. It’s important to be prepared so we can be there to help — and be safe doing it. As for the 10,000 hours, in my view we can cut that down with focused practice and prep, both as pre-season rituals as well as periodic sessions over the course of the season.
Transceiver practice — No matter how many years I have under my belt, my rescue skills get rusty over the summer. I practice single and multiple burial transceiver scenarios with my partners early season, and throughout the winter. We often take advantage of the early season to jumpstart our rescue skills. I don’t ski when there is 12” of snow on the ground. I value my knees and my skis more than that. Early season, I am more than happy to spend a few hours outside in the snow practicing with transceivers. Once more snow falls, I take advantage of beacon parks in our area.
So you’ve decided on exploring backcountry skiing, but are leery of laying down your hard-earned coin for a bunch of gear you barely understand. Given a sufficient fund of enthusiasm and resourcefulness, you can collect the gear, and experience you need, while minimizing collateral damage to your finances.
First, and foremost, it should be recognized that you are trading off convenience for cash. Understand that you will be offsetting financial cost with sweaty armpits, burning legs, chest-deep flailing, fumbled buckles, cold snow in places that should be warm and dry, and immense heapings of humility.
This strategy only works if exploring the backcountry is an itch you can’t scratch, the question that won’t go away, the koan you can’t put down. IT IS NOT: a strategy for getting your significant other into the sport, who has said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I would give it a try sometime…”
What I offer is my experience, not expert advice. I came to the world of ski touring in my early 30’s, my only prior experience with snow being a report I wrote on snowboarding in seventh grade. To spell it out boldly, there is as many (most likely more) mistakes as excellence in my method.
First spend time at a resort, and polish your skill level up to at least low-level intermediate. Be able to reliably make it down groomed runs in full control, then start exploring the powder and open trees at the resort before your first foray out of bounds.
Snowboarding was my point of entry, as the gear can be had much cheaper, and is not quite as specific (virtually all snowboard boots already have a “walk” mode, by virtue of their softer construction).
For less than $100, I was able to posthole my way to the top of the nearest untracked slope. My method of navigation was to grab an aspen tree and pivot, recover from crash, aim for next aspen tree, repeat. It took me roughly as long to get down as it did to get to the top, so I figured one lap was good enough to call things even.Next Page »