Thermacell Proflex Heated Insoles in AT Boots — Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 18, 2015      
Thermacell Proflex insoles with batteries removed, red remote control.

Thermacell Proflex insoles with batteries removed, red remote control.

I know these guys who like the crisp air on 8,000 meter peaks. They bring skis sometimes too. But their feet get cold. Last winter one of those characters (Mike Marolt) told me his etail business would be selling Thermacell heated boot insoles, and that they “saved my feet and I couldn’t climb without them.” Sure, he sells the things but Mike is a straight shooter so I figured the insoles would be worth a test. Mike was right, they really do work. A few trade offs, but they’re lightweight, compact, and don’t suffer from the wire failure you can get with boot heaters with an external battery pack.

Battery inserts to connect to the red connector which appears to be a  sealed 'weatherpack' type connector.

Battery inserts to connect to the red connector which appears to be a sealed ‘weatherpack’ type connector. Nonetheless we’d recommend a dab of dielectric grease.

We field tested the Thermacell in a variety of situations. WildSnow blogger Joe Risi used them in his tight and cold Dynafit ski boots during a long day of skimo race support here in Colorado, while Lisa and I’ve had them in both ski boots and work boots. They don’t produce what we’d call a huge amount of heat (they can’t, as the battery is small and you need it to last). Yet installed and used properly, you get a noticable warmup (they say “100 degrees”) and around four hours of on time at the medium setting, depending on age and temperature of batteries.

Four hours may not sound like much time, yet by turning the insoles on only when needed you can extend the benefits out to a full day. (The on/off switch is a small remote control you can hang from a pack strap or tie to a string in your pocket. If you do want to max out, a set of spare batteries weighs 1.9 ounces, (54 gr), small, they’ll fit in any pocket or take nearly zero room in your repair kit (caveat on battery swapping, see below).

Charger is USB.

Charger is USB.

In my view, Thermacell Proflex work best when used in a boot that’s already optimized for warmth. If a boot is too tight and thin in the toes and forefoot, thus cold, you’ll have to leave the heaters on continuously and you’ll run down the batteries. That’s assuming you’re out for more than a few hours. A quick tour or ride on the chairlift? Just invoke the electrons and enjoy.

Field swapping Proflex batteries is doable but problematic. You have to take your boot off, reach inside, and pull a tiny ledge on the battery with your fingertip. This can’t be done with gloves, and could even be tricky with cold hands as you have to get it just right and pop the battery out. Inserting fresh batteries is easier yet could still be too fiddly in a desperate situation. (What someone should do is make a ski boot with this system molded into the liner, with an exterior accessible battery compartment on the liner cuff. Heaven.)

Swapping the battery is not glove friendly.

Swapping the battery is not glove friendly. We’d recommend Thermacell would include a better grab tab on the batteries. The situation is exacerbated when your boot liner squeezes the flexible insole and presses against the sides of the battery.

The batteries lose 2% charge per hour when inserted and set to “No Heat,” which is actually a sleep mode. When removed from the insole they’re truly “off” and probably lose very little power in a practical sense, though you’d want to recharge after extended storage.

Moisture intrusion and corrosion of the battery connector could be a concern, so I’d recommend a dab of dielectric grease on the connectors. Boot fitting could be an issue, as the Proflex insole adds 13.4 millimeters under your heel and 6.8 mm under your forefoot. Thus you’re dealing with added ramp (<> 6.6 mm) as well as stack. (note that thickness varies with exact measurement points, as nearly the whole insole is tapered in thickness from heel to toe.)

Depending on foot volume and boot geometry, the added thickness may be acceptable — or it could be a deal breaker. At the least, you’ll want to jerk out your existing footbeds and heat-mold your liners with the Proflex. Beyond that, find a boot with adequate volume and a customizable boot board, and do more extensive mods. I just happened to have the perfect boot for that purpose, a Scott Cosmos 2 with the classic “Garmont” last and a removable boot board. Follow along.

Cosmos 2 and a highly moldable Intuition Luxury Liner.

Cosmos 2 and a highly moldable Intuition Luxury Liner. Due to the thickness of the Proflex insole I wanted something with a highly compressible area under the foot.

Insole length can be customized a bit.

Insole length can be customized a bit.

Scott Cosmos lends itself to this kind of customization due to having a removable boot board.

Scott Cosmos lends itself to this kind of customization due to having a removable boot board. I cut the front part of the boot board off to allow max volume. The heel pad was trimmed down so it matched level with the exposed boot bottom, and re-installed. Overall this increased the boot volume to perfectly accommodate the thick Proflex, as well as compensating somewhat for added thickness under the heel which (undesirably in many cases) increases interior boot ramp angle.

Trimming the boot shell heel pad.

Trimming the boot shell heel pad.

Exact added weight of the Proflex is hard to figure, as you’ll probably get rid of some boot board as well as chucking your normal footbed (stock or otherwise). As a rule of thumb, if you strip out some parts figure you’ll add about two ounces per boot. Weight of one stock Thermacell, with battery, is 3 ounces (size small). That’s a small price to pay for feet being safe and snug, but is quite a bit of lug as a percentage in a superlight boot. What Thermacell should do is make replacement lightweight insoles without batteries, that the user can swap in when they don’t need footwarmers. That way you’d get your hard earned (and sometimes costly) custom fit when you don’t need the warmers and want the least mass.

Get a set to begin customizing for next winter, or perhaps you’ll still be skiing for a few more months and want the warmest feet?Shop for em!



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Comments

36 Responses to “Thermacell Proflex Heated Insoles in AT Boots — Review”

  1. Paul March 18th, 2015 10:10 am

    I cant ever see myself considering these over a Sidas boot heater. I was under the impression that 75% of people had custom footbeds but my results are likely skewed. The external battery packs add so little bulk that battery packs in the heel seem like they are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist (Ive seen very little wire or connection failure) and leads to a shorter battery life. 4 hours is a pretty dismal battery life and the idea of having to fiddle with a remote every 45 minutes or so seems like a hassle.

    To your point about heated liners, I know Salomon is coming out with at least 1 alpine boot (womens) that has heating elements in the liner. It sounds like it may not be too far off in other applications.

    Longer battery life on low setting, which still produces heat. 4 hours is just an estimate. Remote isn’t that bad. But if you lose it you are bricked.

    Lou

  2. Lou Dawson 2 March 18th, 2015 10:27 am

    Paul, I did intend to mention how this obviates your custom footbeds, just to be clear, but forgot to do so. What you’d have to do if you wanted similar feel to your custom beds is match heel posting and cant with layers of tape, the old fashioned way. I do that quite a bit when testing various boots. But yeah, it’s not going to be your nice custom beds. Definitely pros and cons. Lou

  3. Steve March 18th, 2015 11:01 am

    1. What are people using in TLT 6 that are not “oversized” to accommodate a thicker liner?

    2. Might be worth doing some testing of these with avalanche beacons. Not that they would interfere while someone was upright and far from the boots but a mock burial with the feet forced closer to the body in an unnatural position.

  4. Mike Marolt March 18th, 2015 11:28 am

    Paul, Thermacell is not for people using orthotics but Lou has suggested some interesting feedback on how it can be accommodated. I was able to modify my thin carbon orthotics to utilize as well, but it’s not for all orthotic / custom insoles. It’s also not for already tight fitting boots as it does have a bit of thickness. But for most AT boots fit for warmth to begin with, it is worth checking out.

    As for the external bats, I am not sure if Sidas utilizes Lithium now, but the problem we have had with all heated insoles is they don’t use Lithium. Both Sidas and Hottronics have been taken in our haul bags on a few different expeditions and they froze before we turned them on. We have had 100% failure. When batteries didn’t freeze locally in warmer climate, we have had wires break again, 100% failure.

    Believe me, our thing is winter Himalayan expeditions and the need for a heated insole at altitude is critical especially in AT boots. So far, and we have tested literally every brand, Thermacell really has worked well. As Lou suggested, with spot heating, and an intuition liner, I’ve had these in -90. I won’t say my feet were fuzzy warm, but they didn’t freeze even slightly even in those extreme temps. You do have to keep a good grip on the remote or you are definitely out of luck, but for us, given the nature of what we do, that thing is always in a chest pocket attached with a cord included.

  5. Mike Marolt March 18th, 2015 11:38 am

    Lou,

    The settings are 4 hours on high and 5-6 on medium, but I am able to get a couple weeks out of a charge locally around here spot heating.

    However, last month at high altitude to above 20K, in -50 temps, we had a 26 hour summit push from BC to BC and I used a set of bats to 18K where we had a pilot camp and I changed the bats out for the rest of the push. Won’t say my feet didn’t get cold, but they didn’t freeze or go numb. That’s probably the greatest test ever for a heated insole. haha.

  6. wyomingowen March 18th, 2015 1:14 pm

    Lou,
    Can you explain control functionality? Bluetooth? I’m w/ Steve (above) about possible interference. And why not have your smartphone control it? Once less device to fiddle with and interere. I experienced chilbains this winter, weird, maybe it’s 5yrs of TLT boots. SO post timing is perfect as I need a plan for next year. Thanks

  7. Lou Dawson 2 March 18th, 2015 2:25 pm

    Wyoming, it’s just some kind of wireless radio signal, but not Bluetooth, super low energy. Would indeed be interesting to have it as Bluetooth and controlled with phone, but then, not everyone lugs their smartphone everywhere… perhaps as an option?

    As for RFI with avy beacon, no way, I doubt the insoles are emitting anything more than a battery would, and if they do have a pairing signal it’s super weak. Important tech to remember is that the whole universe is filled with radio frequencies, it’s all a matter of how strong they are in relation to a device, before they “interfere.” But, sigh, I’ll do a quick test. Lou

  8. Lou Dawson 2 March 18th, 2015 2:33 pm

    So, I held a beacon in search mode against the boot with insole on, didn’t get any ghosts or false distance bleeps, then I held the remote against the beacon, same thing. I wouldn’t worry about it, but as with any electrical device, including headlamps, if you do choose to use the insoles I’d do a beacon practice with them switched on just to be sure.Lou

  9. Bill B March 18th, 2015 2:33 pm

    Not all people can keep their feet warm with thicker liners.
    I got a pair for my wife and so far, sweet.
    We have not had a winter for a real acid test, but have been happy.
    After fighting with the wiring on heated gloves for two years I just cannot
    see wiring working very long in a touring boot.
    Alpine boots, yes.
    The only trouble I have had is contacting 8k peak.
    I tried at least a couple emails and was never able to get thru.

  10. Mike Marolt March 18th, 2015 3:24 pm

    Wyoming, it is in fact a low frequency signal that should not impact avy gear. And future generations will work with smart phones but not for a couple years.

    BillB, the manufacturer is integrating the technology into “heat packs” that work off the same technology for gloves which we will sell next year. Testing them this year locally, they are really good. Those will be available in the fall.

  11. Mike Marolt March 18th, 2015 3:27 pm

    Bill B,

    Not sure how we missed your emails. We get a lot but I am on it. Or feel free to email directly marolt using rof dot net.

    Thanks and sorry.

  12. DavidB March 18th, 2015 4:45 pm

    Glad I don’t suffer from cold feet.

    There is no way I would swap out my custom foot-beds for something like this. The thought of having a battery imbedded under my heel doesn’t encourage me.

    I believe good custom foot-beds actually help with circulation and therefore keep my feet warmer. This may be placebo but would be interested in your thoughts Lou.

    I think you’re right the next generation will be an integrated system from the boot manufacturers.

  13. Lou Dawson 2 March 18th, 2015 4:53 pm

    David, I totally agree, a well fitted boot with a custom footbed, with “touring” fit in toe area, that’s the warmest and might be all most people need. Depends on the boot model, type of fit you like, climate where you ski, and your physiology. Believe me, folks who get cold feet will do well to use heaters and just deal with foot alignment by shimming footbeds with tape — or get the type of heater that’s built into the footbed, all the good brands of heaters have become quite nice.

    We’ve got quite a bit of experience with the heaters that connect to battery with wire. Huge problems with broken wires in highly articulated touring boots. That’s why I like the Proflex. Certainly a tradeoff.

  14. Mike Marolt March 18th, 2015 5:04 pm

    David, we are working on a moldable heated insole. And I also agree that unless you are prone to cold feet, nothing is best. But one other great advantage of the ProFlex is they are transferrable. I walk the dog, shovel snow, and can get away with lighter shoes with these insoles. One test I had was trick or treating with my daughter two years ago. It was cold and I was in office shoes. I was freezing and realized I had a set of samples in my truck. I was the only parent that night with warm feet. haha. But they will work in any shoe for people that get cold feet. The company sent 5,000 pair to Japan after the disaster because the power plants were knocked out and people had no heat and many concrete bamboo floors and they loved them.

  15. Bill B March 18th, 2015 7:34 pm

    You guys are sure lucky with the cold weather.
    Damn its supposed to be 80 here tomorrow.

  16. Marcus D March 18th, 2015 7:51 pm

    My wife used the insoles this season to walk the dog in NC. Not a very extreme cold environment. The soft cushion on the battery peeled off and tore out the electrical wiring when she was removing the battery to recharge. Not a very durable design.

  17. Wes Morrison March 18th, 2015 8:42 pm

    Alpina is offering a heated liner boot next season that has it’s battery in the liner underneath where the spoiler might go. Looks way better than 1.5 cm under the heel and added ramp.

  18. Sam March 19th, 2015 7:49 am

    I can maybe understand the concerns about external batteries for extremely remote and on the edge temperature type situations as the promoters encounter during their high altitude mountaineering. Having fought the battle between cold feet and a decent performing fit in decent performing boots for years, I really don’t consider external batteries to be all that problematic for day touring or even several night long hut trips.

    For me the most crucial points are:
    1. I want a boot/liner/footbed that performs reasonably well. These days that means it needs to fit reasonably well and for me that means moldable liner and custom or semi-custom footbed and a true to size fit.
    2.I have never felt I could simply shim up an extra “nearly 1.5 centimeters under your heel and half a centimeter under your forefoot” in a boot and experience the performance that comes with a modestly decent fit. I am not talking about the performance that would come from a race fit, just a true size fit. 1.5 cm in the heel and 0.5 cm in the forefoot is nearly a full size! I’ve tried to make boots that much too big work when I was a starving student and was never able to achieve satisfactory performance no matter how carefully I shimmed and padded.
    3.Given 1 and 2, it is super easy to mount batteries on boot cuffs, secure wires to liner exteriors such that they have minimal wiggle room and attach heating elements to the top of my footbed of choice. This solution impacts fit minimally and keeps my toes from icing out.

    I’ve had several generations of hotronics and some other brands I don’t recall the names of. Do the batteries wear out? Eventuallty. Do the wires break? Every once in awhile. Can the downsides to these issues be mitigated through thoughtful handling of wires when removing liners, normal common sense battery awareness and infrequent inspection? Yes.

    Not trying to denigrate this system which looks like it could work very well for folks who have or are willing to make the space in their boots. Just trying to offer up some perspective gained from nearly 20 yrs of using a range of wired heated footbeds with external batteries. For me, the best thing would be batteries that last even longer between charges.

  19. wyomingowen March 19th, 2015 8:17 am

    I’ll be disappointed to give up my custom foot beds, for sure. I’m wondering about wet feet, since I rarely feel cold but always sweat/wet feet. Hoping GTX liners get good reviews in immediate future. It seems I’m getting nipped and not realizing / feeling it until later. It certainly doesn’t slow me down nor speed me up.
    A little cold and plenty wet doing the damage a guess

  20. Mike Marolt March 19th, 2015 8:22 am

    One clarification, base to base, the liner is a bit less than 1cm. That’s a bit thick for some applications but the 1.5cm is to the top of the edge; it’s not that thick practically.

    And everyone has very good points, all of which we agree with the only exception being wires and non lithium bats. For backcountry climbing and skiing, we have not had any luck for all the reasons.

    While the system does have inherent issues or “grey matter” as we refer to it, the flaws don’t exceed the benefits for moderate to extreme conditions. But the exciting aspect to Thermacell ProFlex is that the manufacturer is considering all comments. So a massive thanks. It’s one thing for us to approach the manufacturer with issues, another thing for the general AT community. So the thread here is greatly appreciated. For the future, the table is set. This is 20 year old technology, and over the next 3-5 years, the technology will be improved and designs integrated to really get this right.

    THANKS everyone and keep an eye on this. The future is going to be HOT.

  21. Lou Dawson 2 March 19th, 2015 9:27 am

    I just did a hyper accurate measurement with digital caliper, cut a small window on the edge of the heel so I could clamp caliper over battery.

    Heel area, 13.4 mm,
    Metatarsal area 6.8 mm

    ramp is thus 6.6 mm, which might not be huge for some folks but when combined with existing ramp can easily take you over the edge to undesirable ramp angle, not to mention changing the way your instep and heel interacts with boot fit.

    Since this is an issue I’ll accurize my data in the blog post.

  22. jw7 March 19th, 2015 9:36 am

    Huumm. A “new” boot heater that doesn’t work as well as it should yet. Yep, that’s new alright. No custom version and it’s too thick for a performance fitted boot. The rental customers will love them.

  23. Lou Dawson 2 March 19th, 2015 9:38 am

    When I modified/fitted the Cosmos, I was able to get the boot interior ramp down to probably around 4 mm, and had no problem compensating for the additional overall foot height. It’s possible I could have raised the forefoot area by placing the front part of the bootboard back into the boot, to end up with nearly zero additional ramp. But doing so appeared to compromise volume so I nixed that. Bear in mind that the “Garmont” lasted Cosmos has volume to work with. A boot such as Dynafit TLT, Scarpa Alien, etc. would be nearly impossible unless the shell was upsized or you had very low volume feet. Lou

  24. Lou Dawson 2 March 19th, 2015 9:43 am

    Einstein said something like “relativity simply means when you sit on a hot stove, a minute seems like an hour, but look at a pretty girl and an hour seems like a minute.” To paraphrase, “if you have a problem with cold feet, a comfort fitted boot with a Proflex heated footbed will be a performance fitted boot.”

    Also, it’s not necessarily “too thick” for a performance fitted boot. Depends on the exact situation, but in many cases I’d think the performance fit could easily be accomplished, but the boot fitting would have to be done WITH the Proflex included in the process. In other words, yes, you don’t just go dropping this into a performance fitted boot, that is unless you already had thick heel-posted custom beds in there.

    Lou

  25. jw7 March 19th, 2015 10:09 am

    Anyone that has sold these for decades now has heard many many times that a “breakthrough” is just around the corner…

    Have you reviewed the heated socks yet? They can be use in any winter footwear/insole/boot combinations with no modifications?

  26. Mike Marolt March 19th, 2015 7:26 pm

    JW we have tried every brand of heated insoles and a few heated socks and while ProFlex is not perfected, it is in our view the only thing that works for what we do. So it’s exciting to be able to work with a manufacturer that wants to take a proven technology and make it better for what we all do. For now, we love it but it will be better.

  27. See March 19th, 2015 8:39 pm

    I’ve never used boot heaters, but if the wiring is the Achilles’ heel of the external battery type, I wonder if carrying spare wiring wouldn’t solve the fragility problem and enable battery changes without removing boots. The wiring looks pretty cheap/light/compact, and would only need occasional replacement when it breaks.

  28. Herb Jones March 20th, 2015 3:49 pm

    I have been using Hotronics for at least 20 years and had one wire failure. this is not a replaceable item as it is hardwired to the element. I use the battery clips that attach to the power strap, an accessory from hotronic, and have not lost any batteries with this system. Raynaud’s syndrome means that my feet get cold super easily and I don’t even try to ski much below 20F w/o wind. Do the Thermacells heat the whole foot or just the toes? The rest of my foot gets cold while the toes are ok.

  29. Lou Dawson 2 March 20th, 2015 4:04 pm

    Just the toes Herb.

  30. See March 20th, 2015 5:42 pm

    I was making more of a general suggestion than a recommendation for a particular make or model, but it looks to me like the Hotronics wiring/element is replaceable as a unit. Also may be adaptable to custom insoles?

  31. Herb Jones March 23rd, 2015 2:16 pm

    Correct See, the wire/element is a unit and replaceable. The difficulty depends on the installation style. My wire is routed through a slit under the element, then straight back to the heel and up the back of my Intuition “Pro Tour” liner, with protective hotronic tape on the bottom of the liner over the wire, a small piece of fixation tape at the back of the heel to secure the wire and direct it up the back of the liner, then a piece of masking tape above the flex cutout at the back of the liner with a three-quarter inch piece of tape reversed glue to glue in the center making a sliding retainer, so the cuff can move freely without pulling on the wire as it rotates fore and aft while skinning. The masking tape needs to be replaced periodically but its thin, slippery on the outside, and much less gooey than duct tape. It would be better to sew a loop to guide the wire and keep it in the groove at the back of my TLT5. The key is to minimize any flexing or pinching of the wire without creating pressure points on the foot and there are none with this setup since it is moulded in when the liners are cooked. The only spot where the wire sees some pressure is at the top of the spoiler but, as long as the wire lays flat it hasn’t been a problem. The design of the TLT5/6 lends itself well to this setup.In other boots you might have to create a channel or groove for the wire if you can’t find a space to run it at the back of the boot.
    Yes, the wire is the problem which is eliminated with the Thermacell but, I don’t know how their batteries last compared to the latest Hotronics which are much improved over the older ones. The ease of plugging in a spare batt without having to remove your boot is also nice.

  32. Dan Sandberg March 25th, 2015 8:40 am

    Has anyone had experience with the Lenz heated socks? They seemed quite popular in Revelstoke, BC while I was up there this year but I haven’t seen them in the states. As another commenter mentioned, this does seem to have many benefits including the ability to use your custom footbed, as well as switch between different boots. No issues with wires, and able to turn off and on via smartphone. Seems to address many of the issues brought up above with Thermocell. Curious to hear any thoughts and/or reviews.

    http://www.amazon.com/Lenz-Products-Unisex-Lithium-Pack/dp/B00MII6HHC

  33. JimmyW January 8th, 2016 8:03 pm

    I know this thread is a little old, but I’m considering the Sidas nano set for snowshoeing. Any comments/thoughts would be appreciated.

  34. Alysha Donnan December 22nd, 2017 12:50 pm

    Can’t wait to try these this winter. I have kids on the ski team and the Sidas insoles are great as footbeds but the battery packs and wires get ruined with the amount of removing of liners that we do and the with multiple boot bags in the back of the truck battery packs get bumped around. Duct tape only gets you so far. I am only wishing there was a customizable footbed for arch support. Will have to figure that one out. But long Northern – 40 days training can get very cold for the feet.

  35. Lou Dawson 2 December 22nd, 2017 12:52 pm

    Recommended, and apparently they’ve been improved since this review.

  36. kevin woolley December 22nd, 2017 11:36 pm

    I bought a pair for my wife a couple if winters ago, they work very well and have had no problems, this is the best solution she has ever had for cold feet in the ski season, backcountry and resort in Summit County Colorado mostly.





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