Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Avy Thoughts

Post by blogger | November 6, 2014      
We did a nice ski tour today south of St. Anton.

Last winter at St. Anton, checking out the Alpride superlight airline friendly avalanche balloon.

I’m thinking avalanche safety, but ski gear is always a distraction. Beyond our recent focus on skis and clothing, this is the year of the climbing skins. Everything from Kohla to Gecko, Pomoca to Montana. Crazy! Yet, more insane is the variety of airbag backpacks that’ll be available to get you out of what your skins get you into.

Jetforce is still the industry disruptor in our opinion. Will it be worth lugging around nearly 8 pounds so you can fire your airbag off whenever you want — and air travel with no issues? Consumers will vote. Black Diamond appears to be banking on selling a couple thousand of the things this winter and thus getting a nice little boost in their business numbers (according to a brief mention in their Q3 earnings conference call).

I’m still thinking I’ll haul a Jetforce, only probably not on big days when I need much additional weight (ropes, stuff like that). For lighter travel the BCA Float versions are attractive, and the Alpride is seductive.

University students in Missoula, Montana: you can join a backcountry ski club. Their Facebook page has good energy. Retail shops are important, as they host avalanche awareness evenings etcetera.

I like this article about Skinny Skis in Jackson, there since 1974. Just a few years before that I was in Jackson during a cold snap when temps rocked about 50 below zero. I remember searching town for a face mask, with the only shopping game being Jackson Sporting Goods as mentioned in the article. They did have the item, a mask that was popular with ice fisherman. I wore it around town so my face wouldn’t freeze off. Does Jackson still get that cold?

It is a classic. Actually, it’s more than a classic, it’s an institution. If you want a night at the Ostrander Hut in Yosemite, get going with their bunk lottery.

Heli skiing is another institution. We generally shy from much mention of carbon dioxide spewing ships that whisk skiers to the heights accompanied by the smell of burning plastic credit cards. But just like snowmobiles, helis have their uses in human powered skiing. So we give them the nod now and then. Check out this well written article covering the history of heli skiing, with a Canadian slant.

Scrapping continues in Utah over plans to link a pile of ski resorts into one mega complex. On the surface, I’ve liked the concept of resort linkage. But that’s an uninformed view and one I’m gradually being disabused of. Fact is that linking resorts often uses terrain that’s otherwise excellent for ski touring, and not truly needed for lift skiers. Really, what’s the point? You can spend all day riding lifts so you can have an expensive poorly cooked lunch at one end of the megaplex? Are you there to ski, or at the end of the day brag about how many ski lifts and gondolas you’ve planted your butt on? Truly, this stuff has to be marketing driven, not real life. Read here for opinion on the matter.

On the shopping front, look for more Dynafit 20% off sales such as we’ve been helping our advertising partner Cripple Creek Backcountry promote. More, it seems a good number of companies are jumping on the “Q4 sale” wagon. Not sure why. Perhaps they’re expecting a sluggish economy and don’t want to be over-extended with product in their warehouses? Or, in the short term, manufacturer sales can perhaps make their numbers look better to investors and parent companies. In any case, be sure to check websites for deals. Example is the fire sale Black Diamond is having on their Factor ski boot.

At WildSnow HQ, we’re in a lull at the moment with beautiful Indian summer weather and a remodel project, yet the snowmobile waits, as does the hot tub up at Field HQ. I’ve got those nice looking Transalp skis lined up for a binding kiss, and a new pair of La Sportiva Vapor Nanos is on tap as well. We’re headed to Europe again in January for a few press events, only this time we’re planning on doing more skiing and less driving. Each season is different — let’s hope we all get enough snow to make it good.

Word: Make a vow to increase your level of avalanche safety this time around. If you’re new to the game remember avalanche safety classes can only take you so far. Seek out mentors. Solomon wrote something like “in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Still true.


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28 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Avy Thoughts”

  1. wyomingowen November 6th, 2014 9:54 am

    Jackson will still get that cold. The exact negative number is always debated. Obviously, advanced meteorology (Jim Woodmency) helps us plan accordingly. I know an old timer whom still carries an oil drain pan and charcoal in his truck. When the coals burn down you slide the pan full of hot coals under the engine to liquify the frozen oil!

  2. Kristian November 6th, 2014 11:53 am

    Early eighties winter, I was in Jackson to solo the Grand. My car battery froze up, so I took it to a garage to get it charged. Later, walking out with it, a beautiful woman pulled up in a sports car and asked if I wanted a ride. Before I could answer, I slipped on the ice. With battery acid bubbling everywhere, I waved her off…

  3. Steve November 6th, 2014 12:26 pm

    Lou, please include Colltex in your climbing skin

  4. Steve November 6th, 2014 12:28 pm

    …climbing skin reviews (sorry for the cut-off post!)

  5. OliC November 6th, 2014 2:11 pm

    Please stop mentioning the Scott Alpride, it looks like a great system. And Scott bags are also great.
    I really want one, just need to work on a few finances first!

  6. Tyler November 6th, 2014 2:16 pm

    As a long time employee of specialty retail shops, I just want to advocate that everyone support local shops. The best way of doing that is by buying your gear from them at full price whenever you can afford to.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 November 6th, 2014 3:19 pm

    Sorry Oli, I just can’t help myself!

  8. Ben W November 7th, 2014 6:17 am

    Any idea when and where one will be able to acquire an Alpride?

  9. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2014 6:23 am

    Ben, apparently they’re coming into the country as we speak. Find a Scott dealer and ask… we’re anticipating a review copy any day now. But I’ll ask and see if things are on track. I’ve asked multiple times about Jetforce and been told they’re “being assembled in Salt Lake City, distributed any week now…” Lou

  10. Ben W November 7th, 2014 6:40 am

    Info on European distribution would be would be great too, specifically retailers to who will have access? Not much info out their yet, although one British online retailer has them listed.

  11. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2014 6:55 am

    Good point Ben. I’m always telling our advertisers that we’re global, and then I forget! More soon. Lou

  12. SR November 7th, 2014 7:40 am

    Regarding mentors to bridge from avy classes to good field experience, safely, that’s an odd dating game of sorts. Those looking for mentors are often looking for the experience they need to successfully find good, sound mentors. I tell my daughter to among other things watch how boys treat their sisters and mother. I can’t articulate what to look for as green/yellow/red flags for mentors?

  13. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2014 8:01 am

    SR, a while back I posted something about what I felt would be the “definition” of a real avalanche expert. Also, our commenters have made some excellent tries at writing about this big gorilla in the room. I couldn’t find my exact post but recall some of my opinion being that the “mentor” expert needed to have perhaps at least 20 years of active backcountry skiing in avalanche terrain, along with a fairly good track record as well as a demeanor that made them approachable. More, you’d need to ascertain in what part their survival was due to caution as opposed to luck. Getting out with them a few times would be enough to figure that out. Most folks with 20 or more years are going to be on the cautious side of the equation, but crazies can survive… The uncomfortable question to ask would be how many accidents they’d been involved in, and what were the outcomes, and did they change anything about their approach due to the accident?

    The main thing is if you’re serious about getting good at this stuff, don’t settle for simply going out with friends who know 5% more than you do.


  14. Bryan November 7th, 2014 8:08 am

    Lou – the Q4 sales are surprising to me. I’d have to echo Tyler’s comment above about supporting local shops with “MSRP” or full retail purchases. Reward them for having the guts to pay rent and leverage themselves with $XXX,XXX worth of inventory that YOU will need to use this ski season.

    Eventually the internet will figure out how to offer premium services and avoid the race to the bottom in price schemes. The fact is that Nov / Dec should be prime time for full price sales, not blowouts. The industry is cannibalizing it’s own profits by constantly choosing sales volume over protecting margins.

  15. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2014 9:06 am

    This is a kinda’ B2B issue, but there are a lot of forces at play. Private companies vs public, a binding design that’s public domain but not an ISO standard, China, DIY for everything from boot fitting to binding mounting, shops that dropped the ball years ago on expert service and then had to rebuild their service. Another one is “omni channel” wherein manufacturers sell in every venue they can open, e.g., their own etail, their own retail, other retailers, other etailers. I think omni channel is the great evil, not the shoppers looking for a deal. We will always look for a deal. It’s like the sun coming up every morning. I’d like to see the manufactures close their own shopping carts and just focus on making and wholesale. But then, I’m not an MBA by any stretch of the imagination. We did notice that in the BD Q2 earnings call they nattered on and on about omni channel, and in the Q3 call it was hardly mentioned. Perhaps that’s a good sign. Lou

  16. Alin November 7th, 2014 9:29 am

    Any idea where we can get some Kohla Vacuuum Base skins in North America? I know you can get Volkl’s on, but that has the very specific Volkl tip attachment.

  17. Hacksaw November 7th, 2014 11:47 am

    That article on the early history of Heliskiing has so many errors in it I don’t know where to start.

    I have over three years done research that goes all the way back into the 40’s about who was the real inventor of heliskiing. The first heliskiing was done in 1948, in Canada.

    I have writen an article and submitted it to Ski History Magazine. I hope that they will publish it. Then maybe we’ll have an accurate history of the early heliski days out there.

  18. Lou Dawson 2 November 7th, 2014 12:20 pm

    Haksaw, thanks, that sounds ridiculous, I’ll probably remove the link. Can you point out any other errors? Lou

  19. cv November 7th, 2014 8:35 pm

    Lou, got my hands on an alpride pack from a euro buddy. However no cartridges! Any idea where/when I can get those? Sweet little pack!

  20. Hacksaw November 8th, 2014 9:21 am

    I don’t want to start and give away my article. I think you relate to that.

  21. Lou Dawson 2 November 9th, 2014 6:37 pm

    CV, they’re saying Bentgate has the cartridges. Lou

  22. joseph.szasz November 9th, 2014 9:10 pm

    Awesome Lou. I love post like this. Pray for snow!

  23. John S November 9th, 2014 10:29 pm

    Guiding companies in the Canadian Rockies have seen exponential growth in backcountry skiing clients. I wonder if resorts could add b/c skiing to their product line up – it would require no capital investment and be much more environmentally friendly.

  24. cv November 10th, 2014 4:58 pm

    Thanks Lou 2! Think snow!

  25. Lou Dawson 2 November 11th, 2014 5:36 am

    John, perhaps first they could just figure out how to accommodate uphilling, that would be a start. Also, quite a few resorts provide access to backcountry terrain beyond their boundaries. How many actually leverage that as a “product,” I don’t know. Most of us don’t want to see backcountry skiing commercialized to the point where alpine skiing got and was nearly ruined as a sport by it being too expensive and boring ($100 for what!?). Hopefully as the guides and huts (and writers like me) commercialize it we can keep it fun and exciting. Lou

  26. Wookie November 14th, 2014 6:53 am

    Hey Lou!

    When you coming to Munich? I’d be willing to drive you AND break trail to meet you in person.

    Course – there’s probably a lot more out there like me…

    Still: its an offer! Hope you and the missus will take it!

  27. Lou Dawson 2 November 14th, 2014 7:13 am

    Wookie, we love meeting WildSnow readers! If you see that we’re in Munich, at ISPO or whatever, just contact here to remind me and we’ll see if we can have a beer with you or something. Lou

  28. SR November 15th, 2014 11:08 am

    Resorts do leverage their sidecountry and in some cases backcountry both directly, such as JHMR with it’s $500 yurt overnights or catered yurt lunches, and indirectly as part of branding. Backcountry is hot culturally right now, and hopefully that can be leveraged to result in more simple, affordable day-use huts and shelters and other local amenities across the west.

    In terms of mentorship and avy ed, because “bc” is hot as a topic right now, there is also the odd phenomenon of web sites with virtually no relationship to backcountry as a user group hosting snow science discussions and even doing things like having threads that post the local advisory, presumably for those who don’t know how to check the advisory themselves. Probably a moot issue for anyone reading this comment here, but both from an avy ed perspective and in terms of hooking up with partners who subjectively believe they are more or less Tier 2 users but may have gotten very off ideas, there can be interesting disconnects that stem from this, such as the enduring skepticism of airbag packs.

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