As a ski guide and freelance writer, each winter season I’m given the opportunity to test, review and make use of various items essential for backcountry skiing. This list is the first of a two part series representing ten overall items, and a few extras, that have found a home in my own backcountry kit after testing through the 2014’-2015’ ski season. Each item has been tested through and through, and come highly recommend for backcountry users.
Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS Climbing Skins. It seems more and more ski companies are getting into the business of offering climbing skins. I have been impressed with a few companies offering lighter, more packable skins as of late, but I’ve yet to use a pair that perform on a cumulative level like these. They’re not the lightest, and there are other skins that feature better glide, but when you take into account the usability and longevity of the glue, the performance while climbing (which for me is key), and the glide you do get, there still isn’t a pair of skins on the market I trust more. When the snow is so dry you slip on a steep track, or temps are so cold your glue fails, it can ruin an otherwise beautiful day. Bottom line, these skins are dependable and don’t break down.
Stony Sunglasses by Julbo. In all reality, I use several different styles of Julbo sunglasses (and goggles) depending on the backcountry tour in question, but this season I’ve been really impressed by the Stony model. The frame is soft and comfortable. It also fits well to ones head, while the lenses are wide and adaptable for use while ascending or descending. While the Spectron 3 or 3+ lenses are great choices, the Zebra lens is the way to go. The nose clip that comes with these glasses are universal so they can fit perfectly to your unique face, which is an added bonus. Julbo makes a ton of great sunglasses for outdoor enthusiasts and while I enjoyed the Stony model more so, there’s a pair they make that’s perfect for every use in the backcountry.
The Backcountry Access (BCA) Float 42 Airbag. If there’s one company whose gear I tested the most this season it’s BCA. Their Tracker3 Beacon, A-2 EXT with Saw Shovel, Stealth 260 Carbon Probe, BC Link Radio, and Snow Study Kit were all used heavily during my guiding season and proved to be the definition of essential tools for backcountry skiing. The Float 42 stood out the most for me as it’s big enough to fit everything you need for a big day in the backcountry, but is comfortable, carries well, and features a very user friendly airbag system. Read a more detailed review of the Float 42 here.
The Mountain Hardwear Seraction Jacket. Simply put, this is the best non insulated all around mountain jacket I’ve used. It’s not a softshell, but breathes exceptionally well on the up, allowing a backcountry user to have a jacket that works like a softshell, but provides hardshell protection from the elements. That said, it’s not a complete shell either, but again acts like one during bouts of poor weather, especially in wind, rain and snow storms. It’s a super comfortable layer, and when coupled with a puffy coat, you’re set for a great day of whatever weather comes your way in the backcountry.
Praxis Skis Custom GPO Model. There are so many ski companies producing skis these days, but how many of them will custom craft a top sheet, flex pattern and weight for you, while maintaining a sense of affordability? Praxis offers 18 models of different skis at this point, but the GPO is the one that stood out the most to me this season. With a stiff flex pattern and a lighter layup, I found these skis performed well in literally all conditions. In super deep powder, and in steep, firm lines I might choose another ski in my quiver (namely the Powderboards and Freerides). But this ski still handles those conditions well and is the closest ski I’ve had to a “one ski quiver”. Skiing these are believing, it’s no wonder they’re the brainchild of Freeride World Tour competitor and past champion, Drew Tabke.
Stay tuned for Part II dropping soon!