Ski Touring Crystal Ball 2016 — 12 Thoughts from Lou

Post by blogger | December 31, 2015      

My prognostications over past years are sounding like a stuck compact disk (remember those?). Let’s break it down a bit for 2016. Sort of an industry overview, hitting things I find interesting.

Benjamin pump for BCA cylinder, come from paintball tech, are carbon cylinders next?

Benjamin pump for BCA cylinder, come from paintball tech, are carbon cylinders next? Click images to enlarge.

1. In avalanche safety, competition between compressed gas and electric systems will short circuit what’s been a rather boring few years in gas activated avalanche airbag development. Example of a spark: BCA figuring out an end-user muscle-powered pump refill system using off-the-shelf paintball components. While heavy for traveling at 7 pounds 3175 grams, the Benjamin Pump could grace the luggage of larger groups, as well as being purchased by huts and smaller shops so you could fill your BCA gas cylinder nearly anywhere. We’re using it and we love it, though I can’t pump a cylinder in one session (Louie can).

More on the airbag front: While perusing the ‘net looking at paintball stuff that might apply to compressed air activated avy balloons, I noticed an ever increasing plethora of brilliant carbon-fiber cylinders. They appear to save significant mass, one wonders why they are not more available for avy airbag packs? More, what would happen if you used a slightly larger “tank” with a bit less pressure? Could you thus end up with a superlight canister? Should I predict this will change in 2016? Comments?

Procline Carbon ski alpinism boot.

Arcteryx Procline ski alpinism boot demonstrates a trend.

2. In ski boots, the trend to more an better “pure” ski touring shoes will continue.

Essentially, the freeriders out there now have what they need with boots such as Tecnica Cochise, Dynafit Vulcan and Salomon Mountain Lab. Specialized ski touring brands such as Dynafit saw a big potential market on the freeride touring side, and I’d agree, only they ended up competing with the biggest ski boot brands out there — brands who could pretty much add tech fittings and a decent walk mode to their alpine boot molds (not to mention copying what other makers have found to work) and thus end up with something powerful, without years of design effort and time.

So, my take is companies such as Scarpa and Dynafit will get 100% behind their core customer base this coming year. They will continue to invest and innovate on the ski touring side. Carbon fiber will make more inroads. Weight will stay on the good side. Persistent problems with durability will be mitigated, but unfortunately not disappear because along with innovation comes poorly tested features, designs and materials. (Enter, consumer testing, yipee!) Look for boots such as Dynafit with trimmed soles, Arcteryx with the “U-joint” cuff, Atomic Backland that just works. It’s a good time to be a ski tourer, but you might want a new pair of boots once a year or you’ll feel left out.

3. Anyone see the news about nano infused magnesium? It’s said this crazy stuff is super strong and ready to industrialize. Nanomag instead of Titanal anyone? Not sure this is a prediction for 2016, but sure, by this coming Q4 2016 we might see some teasers or info leaks about skis made with this stuff. Or perhaps a compressed air cylinder?

4. I’ll climb out on a thin limb and say at some point in 2016 we will find a thermal drink bottle that’s lighter than our vacuum bottles and insulates as well or better. Oh, and does not dent.

5. A DIN/ISO standard will be created and adopted for the shape, position, etc. of tech fittings in a ski boot sole.

6. Snowmobiling for recreation will continue to explode, but at the same time snowmobile access for ski touring in North America will greatly expand, due to the lack of huts and other infrastructure as well as vast amounts of terrain in places such as western Canada. I don’t have to be psychic to predict conflicts between skiers and sledders will continue apace, though the conflicts will be less important than the media and anti-snowmobile organizations make them out to be.

(Hut operators, I do know you exist, I’m just looking at the percentage of land vs huts and see a vast wilderness, awaiting the sled equipped minions.)

7. Ah, skimo racing. Undeniable mass popularity in Europe will continue. Growth in North America is obvious, but a slow burn due to a much smaller base of athletes from feeder sports such as nordic. A trend to enjoy as a spectator is that of famed endurance athletes (trail runners and such) taking up the sport as winter cardio. Some of these guys don’t ski too well but go for it in a big way. Getting the podium in a bigger skimo race has to do with how well you downhill, since you’re climbing in a pack of racers with nearly equal engines. So watch for the “cross over” athletes getting top places as their downhill skills improve.

8. Back to the electric balloon packs, it probably won’t happen next week, but I predict they’ll get lighter due to battery technology as well as options for smaller power supplies. Further, look for electrical connectors allowing you to charge your various portable devices. This will be driven by the advent of USB type-C allowing electron feeds of up to 3 amps, standardizing just one or two connectors (instead of the patently ridiculous “plug soup” we now deal with). Safety engineers hate that kind of stuff, but with a warning alarm against drawing down your power too far, such could be very nice. How do I know? I’m sitting here with a depleted camera and no way to charge it.

9. How about clothing trends? I’m not touching colorways — I’m always wrong on that — you can tell how well I coordinate and pick my own clothing. At least the black pants are timeless. Speaking of which. Indeed, the classic black or dark grey ski shell pant will stay available for those who need something they can wear more than 10 days away from a washing machine.

Regarding insulations: I’ve been high on water resistant down for some time, even before they legalized it in Colorado. For all but constant saturation (as in ski touring a PNW wet snow storm for 12 hours) formulations such as Mountain Equipment’s 725 WR are incredibly useful. I own a bunch of puffies, and my whole stash is gradually migrating towards sporting the chemically treated feathers. Only downsides? The stuff does have a limit, after which it’ll clump and matt. Though it dries faster than untreated down. Also, I tend to get my WR down jackets damper, and leave them stuffed away. All leading to Lisa’s question when I got back from my last trip to the PNW when someone stashed my bag under a dripping roof: “What’s that smell?”

10. In backcountry electronics, I’ve been disappointed in the promise of smartphones as GPS. Tons of good software exists (Backcountry Navigator Pro is our choice), but finding a phone with a screen you can read quickly and easily in bright multi-source sunlight (as on a snowy mountainside in full sun) is nearly impossible.

What’s needed is perhaps a dual screen phone, with normal LCD on one side and something like a reflective monochrome LCD on the other. The hidden trick here is that the reflective LCD uses very little power. You could thus have a phone with a permanent map display and no battery worries. Seems too easy. A few phones exist that show the “dual screen” concept is on the commercial radar. For example the LG-V10. But they all appear to fall short of being useful for GPS backcountry work. I’ll predict that yes, a variety of phones will someday exist that work well in the solar furnace, but predicting them for 2016 seems premature. It’s probably just a matter of demand. Other ideas about our electronics: Beacons will get smaller, and two-way radios will increase in popularity. Perhaps we can look to phones for that as well, for example the Runbo brings out my inner geek like a field of perfect ankle biter powder brings out my bounce.

11. Climbing skins might actually be the biggest arena for disruptive innovation over coming months. Once Fisher figures out how to fix their Profoil adhesive so it doesn’t stick to itself like a science fiction gravity grappler, you’ll see the “snake scales” make inroads. Perhaps more immediate, look for traditional plush climbing skins that save weight. G3 Alpinist Light is available now, a beautiful iteration. Black Diamond is said to have something in the works as well.

Diamir Black -- 2016 never looked better.

Diamir Black — 2016 never looked better.

12. Let’s close with a harken back to my rants about tech binding development. Over past few seasons I’ve spewed about the coming “year of the tech binding wars,” only to see things blow up because of, well, bindings that blow up. I’m wiping my brow, taking a moment to sigh, and yet again predicting that the next 12 months will be the “tech war.” You’ve got your Kingpins, you’ve got your IONs, you’ve got your Dynafits, you’ve got your Plums. You’ve even got that cool Atomic-Salomon offering you can scare up from Europe if you really want one (and you might). And the ever elusive, ever inspiring Vipec Black will soon be available in all markets. So look out, world domination by two pins and a song is here, now.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


34 Responses to “Ski Touring Crystal Ball 2016 — 12 Thoughts from Lou”

  1. Mike December 31st, 2015 9:13 am

    Some brilliant skimo racer will come out with a remote control, which is able to be mounted to a ski pole, that will allow tech bindings and boots to switch between ski, walk, and various heel lift heights. Moving even further forward, this remote will also control a group of spring loaded fish scales under a skiers center of balance which will take the place of skins completely. When not in use, they will store flat against the base of the ski, allowing for unimpeded glide on the downhill.

    Simultaneously, the use of “Drones” or UAV’s will be paired with Avanet devices, allowing them to safely gain snow profiles across a large area in a short amount of time. These Drones will also be able to be loaded with reusable percussion devices which will be able to activate in avalanche start zones.

    Next, as Trump is elected president of the world, and we start watering our crops with electrolyte rich gatorade, global warming will accelerate, increasing the popularity of grass skis.

    Lastly, AI will eventually reign supreme, and our robot overlords will take over the world, as they do not require the simple enjoyment of sliding on snow, they will have plenty of time to focus on their one goal, destruction of humanity.

    The End

  2. Scott in Canada December 31st, 2015 9:40 am

    Lou you may as well delete yours and re-post Mike’s. Clearly a remote control fish-scaled Trump Drone is the future. All Hail Our Computer overlords.

  3. See December 31st, 2015 9:52 am

    Interesting that you didn’t rollover #8— “The one-kilo touring ski will go mainstream—“ from 2015. I guess in the future we’ll be using magnesium/ceramic thermoses and wood/glass skis.

  4. afox December 31st, 2015 10:25 am

    Sometimes technology moves backwards not forwards.
    Take for example #10. With easily user-removable cell phone batteries, GPS battery life on a cell phone is not an issue at all. I use backcountry navigator on my phone for GPS and carry a stack of between 2 and 10 spare cell batteries. The batteries cost about $5 each and each gets me most of a day of smartphone GPS navigation. I charge them in an out of phone charger, much like a camera battery charger. The batteries are lightweight, id estimate 3 of them weigh as much as 2 AA’s. Within the past 2 years cell phone manufacturers have stopped selling phones with user-removeable batteries. This has made the phones useless for BC navigation and makes the phone obsolete when the battery dies as it generally costs more to have the battery replaced than the phone is worth. I know this is all meaningless to Iphone users who have had the worst of worst for year and did’nt even know cell phone GPS navigation was possible, nothing to see here iphone users.

    I agree, that the screens could be easier to read in bright sunlight but a better solution to that problem will be smart watches with lcd screens that can display app data from an app like backcountry navigator. This you will see in 2016 as I am aware of at least 1 map app maker already working on this.

  5. afox December 31st, 2015 10:34 am

    Number 11 is another interesting one. I think the recent skin innovations are interesting but the skin manufacturers are looking in the wrong places to make improvements. I think that the future of skins does not involve glue. There are other ways to fasten skins to skis. The improvements to be made in skin fabric and glue are minor. The first company to develop a working and practical skin system that uses an attachment system that does not rely on glue will change the way we use skins in much bigger ways than minor improvements in glue formulas and fabric.

  6. Matt Kinney December 31st, 2015 10:46 am

    With the “explosion” of mechanized skiing we will see an increase in avalanches and SAR incidents due to lack of experience as skiers try to try to outrace the time honored method of gaining practical alpine experience over time. It is what is is…sad to see ski alpinism go weak in N. America.

    Happy New Year.

  7. Mike December 31st, 2015 11:16 am

    One last prediction 😉 The level of smug backcountry skiers will reach epic proportions leading to the development of a new sport where people rarely leave the parking lot or valley. Instead they will simply skin into a safe spot in any popular backcountry ski “zone”, whip out their binocs, and criticize every skin track, and ski squiggle convincing themselves of their own superiority, while at the same time assuring themselves of the imminent danger that would lurk around every turn should they leave their perch. After a few hours of measuring out alpha angles, digging pits in flat terrain, and sniffing their own farts (have you ever notice the perpetuity of flatulence in a snow pit on a cold day?), they will return to the trailhead, loudly proclaiming their superiority for everyone to hear, while pedantically disrobing and storing their shiny-logo emblazoned, florescent gear back into its original packaging while sipping on low calorie lager. This trend will continue to grow at a feverish pace until either the aforementioned robots put them out of their self-imposed misery, or they die from electrolyte overdoses.

  8. Erroneous December 31st, 2015 11:47 am

    @ Matt Kinney – Snomo access does not equate to an “explosion of mechanized skiing”. The vast majority of sled owning skiers I know (myself included) use them for access only. If you’re suggesting that using a sled to access killer terrain so that you can then climb up and ski it is “weak”, then I trust you never drive your car to do the same (because that would make you a hypocrite).

  9. j December 31st, 2015 12:14 pm

    #10, not much of a prediction on the HW side. Here is the phone you want, e-ink screen on the backside. Been out a couple years or so.!

    Now all you need is the apps to use the second screen for GPS since it appears only certain things can be displayed on the e-ink screen.

  10. XXX_er December 31st, 2015 12:35 pm

    “A trend to enjoy as a spectator is that of famed endurance athletes (trail runners and such) taking up the sport as winter cardio. Some of these guys don’t ski too well but go for it in a big way.”

    Couple years ago a pretty good ultra runner (top 300 worldwide) not so good skier came to our ski touring event at the ski hill. While the fastest skiers have made it in 20hrs this guy skied 27500 ft in <13hrs and the hardest part for buddy was the skiing down after each lap

  11. Matt Kinney December 31st, 2015 1:03 pm

    Leave my car at the trailhead and use skins. It’s never too far. What’s hypocritical is call yourself a backcountry skier while riding a sled most the time because it’s… easier? Anyway don’t want to taint lou’s site so on too tech fittings.

  12. Robin December 31st, 2015 2:40 pm

    While we’re dropping weight and dreaming big, add a titanium shovel blade with a carbon handle while maintaining hoe and rescue sled crossbar capability. Seat of the pants estimate: 1 lb or less for the combo. I recall a carbon handle convert in the archives: Was it durable?

    Don’t forget the electric sled. With all those Tesla patents on the free market now, surely someone’s tinkering with that idea. Imagine the decibel drop. Peace in our time? Just the whir of the track. And there’s your plug-in for peripheral devices, too Lou. Now about that battery weight…

    Last thought – An additional benefit of magnesium skis would be for rescues. Not sure the helo can see you? Expose the magnesium core, put a flame to it, and even NORAD’s sensor satellites will take notice.

  13. GeorgeT December 31st, 2015 3:32 pm

    #9 Clothing Trends — more NeoShell, eVent and Toray/Dermizax because they breathe better. Neon and bright colors seem to be trending. Long live my black and grey old school pants.

  14. Charlie Hagedorn December 31st, 2015 6:36 pm

    Soon: there will be strain on SAR agencies as they’re called upon to do increasingly dangerous/frequent winter recoveries without increased resources. If the number of rescues is proportional to the number of backcountry skiers, I think we’ll see a quadrupling of the number of rescues in the coming seasons in Washington.

    Soon: We’ll have to figure out how to make it possible for SAR to search effectively in areas with oodles of recreational skiers still skiing for pow. It happened here in Washington a couple of weeks ago; it will happen again.

  15. Aaron Mattix December 31st, 2015 9:38 pm

    #9 – I tend to go for “train wreck” in my selection of color ways/clothing. If one can’t look away, it makes it that much easier for travel partners to spot you.

  16. Marcia January 1st, 2016 9:19 am

    >I’ll climb out on a thin limb and say at some point in 2016 we will find a thermal drink bottle that’s lighter than our vacuum bottles and insulates as well or better. Oh, and does not dent.

    I’ll believe it when I see it 🙂

  17. Paul January 1st, 2016 4:47 pm

    A Nalgene filled with boiling water and put in an insulating sleeve is part way there on #4. At least warm tea is better than cold. And my prediction: lightweight carbon fiber 12 gauge shotguns will grow in popularity proportional to recreational drone use.

  18. chrisL January 1st, 2016 5:06 pm

    Funny the comments on smartphone use as a GPS. Can’t speak for droids but I’ve been using my iPhone exclusively as my gps for 4 years now and I would say it’s revolutionized the way I do things. Never had much problem seeing the screen in daylight, and battery life is more or less a nonissue on day trips. Heck, I’ve tracked my route for up to 8hrs before with the gps going constantly (or at least logging points every 30s or so), and with occasional use I can usually go 2-3 days. Small battery pack chargers are ubiquitous now for charging on multi day trips. Add a lifeproof case and now you don’t even worry about weather.

    I use GaiaGPS and highly recommend it. You can overlay sat imagery as well as slope angle shading on the topo. As a guide, I can easily import our run lists into the app. I am convinced these features can increase backcountry safety even for experienced users.

    Of course with all of this, there is a learning curve.

  19. Mark L January 1st, 2016 6:00 pm

    chrisL – I know I had much better luck with the GPS in my old phone (Motorola Droid platform) than with my newer phone (LG Vista). Gaia doesn’t work at all, so I contacted them. They said they had heard of issues with the GPS in the LG. That seems to me to be the most limiting factor: the reliability, especially with moisture, temps, etc. phones just aren’t all made to take that kind of backcountry abuse. However, I have a very simple wrist GPS (Garmin Foretrex) which doesn’t have maps, so if it works it makes a great redundant/alternative option if it works.

    I agree that the charging issues have become almost moot with the availability of compact external power supplies and solar panels. I got the Foretrex model with batteries a couple years ago rather than a charge port because of the recharge issue. Now I would probably go the other way because a power supply is useful for phones, cameras, GPS, etc.

    However, sometimes I feel like we just keep replacing the weight saved with new gear with electronic gadgets. Sometimes less is more.

  20. Jim Milstein January 1st, 2016 6:06 pm

    For hot beverage in the wild I pour hot tea into a Camelbak bladder, which is kept in an insulating envelope made from thick closed cell camping pad. That is kept in the main pack compartment with the drinking tube snaked out below my armpit and into my front pants pocket. The bite-valve end of the tube is the part that freezes first. After drinking, the bite valve is hoisted high and pinched open to drain the tube dry. I get hot to warm tea over a six hour outing this time of year. The bladder starts off with the air sucked out and ends with no air added. Air in the bladder promotes convectional cooling.

    I don’t like to take my pack off while skiing. Most outings I don’t. Beverage bladders with drinking tubes help.

  21. See January 1st, 2016 6:46 pm

    Hi Chris. 8 hours may be the point at which things start to get interesting for some one who is relying on the phone for navigating in unfamiliar terrain. Your requirements/capabilities/knowledge as a guide are different from the average user. Do you think smartphone batteries have enough margin for error for most people?

    The Fre Power cases for the iPhone 6 with integrated battery look pretty good. No fiddling with cables, separate battery packs, etc. required. I’m working on justifying the upgrade… Happy New Year all.

  22. See January 2nd, 2016 7:53 am

    Incidentally, I’ve got a hunch I’ve had the privilege to be guided by ChrisL and (if I’m right) I’d recommend his operation to a friend looking to ski some incredible terrain without hesitation.

  23. Lou Dawson 2 January 2nd, 2016 8:05 am

    I’ve had battery problems licked for years on Samsung Galaxy, simply by using aftermarket jumbo battery and case, ditto for weather, simply by using a water resistant or waterproof case (I like the big ziplocks sold by Cascade Designs). Ditto, Backcountry Navigator or Gia seem to run fine provided you master the fiddly steps of pre-loading maps. Challenge for me is simply the screen visibility. Frustrating, since I got everything else working so well. Periodic map checks done by throwing jacket over head to block light do work fine, where the screen vis issue arises is when doing critical navigation where constant use of GPS is mandatory, such as when trying to find exit point off a ridge between two cliffs, in a bright whiteout. Not the most common thing, but the problem is that when you really need the GPS to save your life is when the screen vis can become an issue. Lou

  24. chrisL January 2nd, 2016 8:06 am

    @MarkL – My experience is entirely with iPhones which is what almost all of our guides use. None of us have had a problem with the GPS reliability. I know that waterproof cases are harder to come by for some droids, but the iPhone lifeproof case (although not without minor quabbles) is pretty awesome.

    @See – Again, 8 hours was tracking a long run/climb so the GPS was going more or less constantly. Not much reason to do this unless your a Strava terrorist 🙂 Most folks (guides or recreational) just need to locate themselves on a map periodically through the day, and if you’re careful you shouldn’t have much problem with battery life for a day trip. I routinely wrap up a day with 70-80% battery power on a 4 month old iPhone 6.

    Of course technology can and does fail, so no excuse for not having a paper map and knowing how to use it.

    And @See, thanks for the kind words!

  25. See January 2nd, 2016 9:15 am

    iPhone 6 has longer battery life than previous phones, but point taken. I need to move up that learning curve.

  26. chrisL January 2nd, 2016 9:24 am

    @See – Yeah, it definitely has better battery life than my iPhone 5. But as we all know, batteries degrade over time too. At the end of two years, my iPhone 5 was just hanging in there but I was starting to bring a battery pack on day trips just to be safe.

  27. Mark L January 3rd, 2016 10:52 am

    I haven’t used them, but Brunton makes a couple compact power units with integrated solar panel: Ember 2800, Resync 3000 & 6000.

  28. Carl January 4th, 2016 11:24 am

    Here in the PNW we don’t have to worry about sunlight visibility screens during the winter. I want to buy a gps app for my phone gaia vs BC nav thoughts? What cheap backup batteries are best?

  29. Jim Milstein January 4th, 2016 12:45 pm

    Carl, I use Gaia GPS, but haven’t used BC Nav.

    To recharge the inReach SE and the iPod Touch which I carry for nav purposes I have a couple of Panasonic NCR18650A Li ion cells, each of which has enough electrons to fully recharge the inReach once or the iPod a couple of times. The charger is a Miller ML102 USB charger/recharger. Also carry a short stout micro-USB cable with a Lightning adapter for the ‘Pod. All of these together weigh less than six oz. I forget what this stuff cost, but it was very little from Fasttech. Delivery takes almost forever from them. If you are in a hurry buy elsewhere.

  30. Mark L January 4th, 2016 1:49 pm

    Gaia GPS was mentioned in a Backcountry Magazine article a while back.

    Goal Zero and Brunton have a range of products from really compact units good for a single charge to larger multi-charge power units, many of which are compatible with portable solar panels, as well as the integrated solar ones I mentioned above. I just picked up a Goal Zero Venture 30, which is a little bigger, but more versatile, and really weatherproof.

  31. Mark L January 4th, 2016 1:50 pm

    Gaia GPS was referenced in a Backcountry Magazine article a while back.

  32. Mark L January 4th, 2016 1:52 pm

    Sorry for the duplication. Something weird happened when I posted.

  33. Brian January 5th, 2016 10:31 am

    Ultra champ Rob Krar is already making podiums at big skimo races.

  34. See May 12th, 2016 9:38 am

    Just to update: now that I’ve had some more practice using my phone for navigation, I realize chrisL and others are right (no surprise). I’m not a Strava user, but the folks I was learning from are, so I was using way more battery than necessary. Now that I put the phone in airplane mode and just use it to get a position, look at the map, set waypoints, etc., I’ve only had to use usb charger for multi day trips. My only real complaint is that snow makes the touch screen go haywire. Well, that and the erosion of my basic skills.

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