Dynafit Ski Crampons. If you haven’t found a place for ski crampons in your backcountry ski gear collection yet, what are you waiting for? These are a small, light, incredibly useful item that can turn a horrible tour into a brilliant one. They snap onto Dynafit bindings in seconds, and are minimal enough to be clipped onto the outside of a pack if you think you might need them. If not, you’ll barely notice the space or weight they take up in your pack. But I can assure you, whether you’re slipping on frozen corn or inching up slippery wind-board, when you have a pair in conditions that warrant their use, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to get them in the first place.
Intuition Liners. If there’s one piece of essential backcountry ski gear, safety equipment aside, it’s boots. Truthfully, I’ve had a tough time finding “the boot” and I am on a never ending search. In the meantime, what I have found is that a custom foot bed (read below) is crucial, and Intuition Liners will transform the way you fit into your ski boots. I prefer the Dreamliner, other ski tourers have other models they prefer (Pro Tour), but for warmth, stiffness and overall performance, no matter what boot I ski, there will be an Intuition Liner in them. If you haven’t already given them a shot, my guess is you’ll never go back to a company stock liner again once you do.
Custom Foot Beds. As referenced above, your ski boots are arguably the most important non safety item related to function and performance in the backcountry. Intuition Liners have done wonders for me, and many others, but when combined with a custom foot bed, the overall package increases ten-fold. For years I skied on a foot bed that I thought was good. That was until I found the Heel-Loc Power Orthotic foot bed custom made by Olympic Bootworks in Squaw Valley, CA. Even if you can’t make it to meet with Buck (the designer), take a look at his website and audit his process. I know there are others out there producing high quality orthotics, but this really seems to be the “best of the best”, and if you don’t think so, I trust Buck would be interested to hear what you think seeing as he has truly given an incredible amount of thought, time and effort into developing his craft.
Honey Stinger Energy Food. When dealing with backcountry energy food it all comes down to preference. What works best for you? What taste can you handle? What company do you wish to support? This season was the first time giving Honey Stinger a shot and I plan to keep their products in definite rotation. Highlights for me include an orientation to organic ingredients, the use of honey as a key input as opposed to artificially produced fillers that are impossible to pronounce, and of course, great taste. The chews are delicious, the gels are much easier to put down than other brands who make comparable products, and I actually look forward to eating the waffles. At the end of the day, what are you stoked to put in your body to perform at your highest level? Honey Stinger is as good as it gets.
Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight .9. Besides a few energy gels, this is the most inexpensive item on the list. If you don’t already have one in your pack, get it in there ASAP! This kit is designed to accommodate 1-4 people over a four day stint, but will most likely last you much longer. The contents are comprised of what you should already have in your first aid kit as is, but the .9 makes it easy. Throw in a pack of QuickClot and a Sol 2-person emergency bivvy and that’s about as dialed as you can get before starting to look at bigger items based on specific need like a SAM Splint, other pharmaceuticals, etc.
Building on the above list, I want to make mention of a few additional “essentials”. The first is finding a tuner in your home town you can trust. I enjoy tuning my own equipment, but truthfully, my tuning space has decreased over the years and as much as I can fill a hole with p-tex, nothing compares to getting a professional tune. Tahoe Dave’s is the best in the greater Lake Tahoe area, and if you ever find yourself in Whistler, go see Underground Tuning. It’s shops like these two that the greater ski community needs, and when you get a tune that makes your skis ride better than when they were brand new, you know you got a good tune. And, it’s always important to support local businesses whenever and wherever possible.
Second, when’s the last time you cleaned up your favorite puffy coat or touring pants? Just like tuning, I have the home kits and have washed, scrubbed and done my best to maintain the integrity of my outerwear. But nothing compares to getting it done professionally. In Tahoe, we’re lucky to have Technical Equipment Cleaners who offers a fast, affordable service that just like a good tune, makes your gear seem almost better than brand new. Like a good tune, having gear that’s clean and ready for the elements translates to bigger smiles in the backcountry.
The third is an emerging company called Avatech. There are several worthy pieces available online about Avatech, but in a succinct package, they’re changing the game when it comes to proactive avalanche safety. Their dedication to helping backcountry users make more informed decisions is commendable, and with their SP1 probe and the further development of the Avanet platform, I guarantee this is a company you want to keep tabs on (look out for the SP2 due for release in the fall).
The fourth and final essential on the list is the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA). The WWA is an advocacy group that fights for the protection of human powered recreation on public lands with a specific emphasis on snow sports. They’re a non profit organization that is a leader in protecting and preserving wild winter lands. Take a minute and get familiar with their website, their mission, and how you can get involved with their work. If there is any one organization backcountry skiers should be aware of and get involved with, its the WWA. No one does more to stand up for the well-being of the environment and the backcountry community like they do.