Another new ski season is upon us here at Crested Butte Mountain Guides, and thus us guides have been excited about some of the latest and greatest in backcountry ski gear on the market this year. With last week’s industry gathering at the Annual Winter Outdoor Retailer Show in SLC, now was as good a time as any, to share some thoughts and picks on what new gear for 2010/2011 we are using out and about in the Elk Mountains everyday.
This year, I tried hard to keep the new gear to a minimum, but of course there were a few items that seemed to be very innovative and worth taking a gander at their performance. First up is my newly received, Dynafit TLT5 Mountain, ski-touring boot. More of a “ski shoe” really then a “ski boot”, these things are light…..and at about 5 lbs for the pair….I mean light ! They are also undoubtedly, white. White is light, and light is right, I suppose? So far, I’ve only had a handful of days on them and am already wondering about their durability to 100+ backcountry ski touring days a gear, as they don’t seem like they have enough beef to handle the use and abuse that my workhorse Black Diamond Method Boots have stood up to. Even so, they tour really really well….almost more like a nordic ski boot then an alpine touring boot, and they ski surprisingly well for being so minimal. They seem to ski quite a bit stiffer then other super lightweight boots in their category like the Scarpa F1.
Though they don’t give up much for the way down, they do indeed compromise in warmth and comfort, as these things are quite cold and very tight fitting. The same size shell as my BD boots, but almost 20mm smaller boot sole length, means alot less plastic, which on cold Colorado ski days, means cold feet…even with my heated footbeds, my toes were cold in these things.
Overall, an exciting new addition to the guide quiver this year, and one that I think will really excel as a spring ski mountaineering boot. Where steep bootpacks, rock scrambling, and big alpine tours will all be prime terrain for these ‘ski shoes’.
Second, is another entry into the avalanche airbag backpack system, BCA’s Float 30 Pack. Over the years I’ve used the ABS Airbag system, and just this year also tested out the SnowPulse Airbag Pack. The BCA Pack is by far, I think, the best thing going on the market. Best off, the compressed air cartridge is easily refilled at any scuba/dive shop, or as is the case here in Crested Butte, with a tank adapter…at the local fire dept. Therefore, it is easy to deploy and refill with minimal hassle and cost….not so with the ABS Pack. The backpack itself is actually very comfy for how heavy it is, and though the metal waist buckle takes a while to get used too (as the other airbag packs have) it is a cinch once familiar with it. The trigger pull has a nice stash pocket on the shoulder strap so can easily be stowed away or opened for deployment. The pack body itself is a little awkward and cumbersome, but all the airbag pack systems seem to be. It is 30L, and is maxed out for a day of backcountry ski tour guiding...making it not an option for the slightly heavier and more intensive ski mountaineering gear kit. It also has some awkward use of space…making it hard to utilize all the avaialable packing space. My biggest gripe is the separate shovel blade, shovel handle, and probe pockets…as I like to have all my avy rescue tools in 1 easily accessible pouch or pocket and this pack makes you divide into 3.
Overall though, despite the space and packing drawbacks, it is incredibly comfy, less bulky to wear then the SnowPulse and more user friendly then the ABS and the gripes are minor considering the statistics that this is the most likely tool to save a person’s life if caught in a slide, with an almost 97% success rate. I’ll put up with a less then perfect pack knowing that ultimately it is none of these features that will save my life, but the all important airbag and integrated compressed air canister that really matters.
Third, and last on the list, is actually an item from this past summer that I’ve found excels just as much, if not better, in the winter here in the Colorado backcountry….our Mammut Brisk Jkt guide uniforms. This thing is awesome, and our guides have been wearing it from Crested Butte, to Ouray, Indian Creek, the Cascades, and is likely destined for Chamonix & Valdez this Spring. This thing is versatile. Made of a thin but warm, windproof and breathable Gore Windstopper it is the perfect layer for any aerobic outdoor activity. Warm enough to go backcountry skiing in during the winter and shed light snow and wind with aplomb, it is still thin and stretchy enough to take on an alpine rock route, a cool day Rockclimbing in the Black Canyon or Indian Creek. It has an abrasion resistant face that doesn’t snag on rock, and the elastic cuffs and hem make for low bulk underneath gloves and a harness when rock or ice climbing…or ski mountaineering for that matter. Finally, a tall collar makes for comfortable carrying of, over the shoulder rope coils while working, and the pit zips allow for easy temperature regulation without changing layers.
Overall, a very solid and functional jacket, that is a staff favorite for as the go-to piece for the variety of guided activities we do…whether as a stand alone jacket or a mid-layer on really cold, slow moving avalanche course teaching days…this thing is the s%*t !
—CBMG Lead Guide, Jayson Simons-Jones