Dad always used to tell us that the best therapy was to “get your heart rate up while moving through the mountains”. For a child that sentiment fell upon deaf ears as we all knew the real reason to go in the mountains is to throw rocks in puddles and streams. Years have now passed, and sadly enough I throw less and less rocks into fewer puddles, even though I seem to spend more and more time moving through the hills.
What is it exactly about the mountains that draws us in? Across the globe native civilizations have believed for centuries that mountains are home to powerful spirits and deities. Is it a quest to be closer to these spirits? Or are we carrying on the tradition of early explorers, a mentality of conquering and staking our claim? I think the answer lies somewhere in between. Just as the ocean calls to sailors and surfers, there is something about the craggy peaks and snow covered trees that beg to be explored. Gone are the days of leather boots and wool mittens – wet toes and frostbitten noses. No, we are no longer intruding upon the mountains and surviving – we are thriving, filling up our souls on crisp air and carefully selected pow runs. No peak is too far, no backcountry jump too big to build. The long 2×4’s of yesterday have been shaped into rockered underfoot art.
The heavy coats and stiff boots have moved over for micro puffs and tech bindings. It’s easier than ever to step outside the boundaries and go find whatever you’re looking for, because we want more than the resort has to offer, and what better way to get there than your own two feet. The backcountry is a place for everyone (well everyone with proper avalanche equipment and knowledge on how to use it) and what a great place it is to be.
A first timer can share the skin track with a 30 year veteran, a park rat and a ski mo racer can look at the same slope and find the line that makes them “yeewwww” with stoke. That’s what draws us in I think. Our differences get erased by the simple pleasure of sliding on snow, and the freedom of the mountains. Walking along a ridge, turning new corners, whether it’s your backyard mountains or halfway across the globe, it feels good to know that the fate of your happiness is only as far away as the nearest trailhead. Happy touring!
With Spring skiing upon us and many resorts shut down due to COVID-19, there’s no better time to get into Alpine Ski Touring (AT). It’s a great way to get out in nature and enjoy the rest of this year’s season. In addition to less crowds, you get the added benefit of exercise going uphill and a more intimate connection with nature (not to mention all the powder to yourself). Here’s everything you’ll need to get going with ski touring and our top picks for this year’s gear.
MEN’S & WOMEN’S OUTERWEAR
Your outer layer is perhaps the most important since it’s your first line of defense against the elements. We wanted an outer layer that provided breathability for the way up, but also sufficient warmth on the way down. Versatility was also important so that we could use in a variety of conditions — whether snow filled resort days, sunny backcountry touring or anything in between.
ARC’TERYX MEN’S JACKET & PANTS
We opted for the Rush IS Men’s Jacket from Arc’teryx with an added thin layer of internal insulation. The jacket comes equipped with GORE-TEX waterproof protection and Octa® Loft breathable insulation for warmth on cold backcountry ski and snowboard tours. It kept us sufficiently warm on long snow-filled downhill days, but was also light enough to use for uphill sunshine touring. The helmet compatible StormHood™ gives full coverage and maintains peripheral vision, a powder skirt helps seal out snow, and articulated patterning provides great freedom of movement. The pockets are also simple and smart and their WaterTight™ zippers won’t accumulate snow for those powder-rich days in backcountry.
The Sabre AR Pant—designed for big mountain freeride touring— was our choice for a waterproof, breathable and hard wearing pant. We appreciated how well it handled the rigors of on area descents and off piste exploration, such as the double side zips that open wide for rapid ventilation. Storm protection and warmth come from the N80p-X GORE-TEX 3L fabric with 3L lo-loft soft shell construction. The material’s brushed liner provides light insulation and a flannel like feel. Durable 100D Cordura® PowderCuffs™ seal out snow and fit under snowboard highbacks, and Keprotec™ instep patches prevent abrasion and ski cuts. Integrated Slide’n Loc™ attachments link with compatible jackets to create a unified clothing system that moves with the body and helps seal out snow.
PICTURE WOMEN’S JACKET & PANTS
Picture Organics is a sustainable brand that specializes in high performance. A certified B-Corp, Picture Organics has committed to several pillars of sustainability including the use of recycled + organic materials, supply chain transparency and sustainable production processes.
Developed in their LAB research department, the Haakon Jacket is born from some of their latest innovations. Featuring hybrid body-mapping construction and strategically-placed performance materials where we needed them most, this jacket was designed with dual-density fabrics: a patented knit construction under the arms and along the body for maximum breathability and stretch, and woven fabrics on the shoulders, back, and front torso for high abrasion resistance.
The 2-layers Haakon Jacket features DRYPLAY 20K/20K PFC-free waterproof-breathable membrane for maximum temperature regulation and fully-taped seams to keep moisture out. For even greater protection, it includes adjustable cuffs with integrated wrist gaiters, as well as a two-way adjustable hood for a perfect fit around and over your head. The ultimate in temperature regulation and freedom of movement.
The Haakon Bib is the ultimate freeride bib. It’s a 2-layer, lightweight, and functional bib pant that provides full protection on any line you choose to ride. The removable bib and adjustable suspenders make it extremely versatile whatever the terrain and however hard you choose to play. Its recyclable DRYPLAY 20K/20K PFC-free membrane and thighs zippered vents provide targeted and extremely efficient temperature regulation, fully-taped seams and waterproof YKK zippers keep moisture out. The always-practical I-Fit System allows you to roll up your cuffs after a great day on snow. The Regular Fit makes it a timeless classic.
HESTRA MEN’S & WOMEN’S GLOVES
This Hestra Fält Guide Glove is named after one of Sweden’s leading survival experts, Lars Fält, who was also involved in the development of the glove. This hyper durable glove is made entirely of leather with removable wool terry cloth/wool pile liner and can also be combined with other liners. We love this glove for multi-day tours but also for long days on the resort. We also used these gloves heli-skiing at Silverton and they were more than up to the challenge.
The Hestra Patrol is the female version of Hestra’s popular Army Leather Patrol. It’s a warm and durable glove ideal for resort or backcountry skiing. The glove features Army Goat Leather in palm and HESTRA Dobby Polyester Melange fabric on backhand. The removable polyester lining is made with G-loft insulation, making the liner easy to take out to dry or wash. The Neoprene cuff around the wrist with Velcro closure and handcuffs makes this glove our prime choice for alpine ski touring.
ALPINE TOURING SKI GEAR
When it came to selecting ski touring gear, we wanted the benefit of lightweight versatility and performance. The following selection of brands and items was carefully curated and tested in a variety of mountain conditions — everything from a 12-mile plus backcountry tour to fast groomers, powder days and even heli-skiing.
SCOTT COSMOS III SKI TOURING BOOTS
When it comes to ski touring boots, the right fit is everything. It’s important to have a good balance of both comfort and performance for long hikes up and shredding the pow on the way down. We wanted a boot that was super light weight with enough flex for going up, without sacrificing performance going down.
The SCOTT Cosmos III blends lightweight agility with skiing performance for the demanding conditions of high-mountain ski-touring. Their POWERLITE technology gives the skier easy mobility of the cuff for climbing and solid support for turns. The Rear Hook Walk System is simple, strong, and dependable, delivering powerful energy transfer for skiing with a high range of walking mobility.
The boots are fully thermoformable as well, ensuring a completely customized fit to your feet. We also added our own heel insert for a little extra cushion on the bottom. The boots perform well in a variety of conditions and hold up great on the way down as well as the way up. We also used them extensively in resort skiing without any noticeable impact on downhill speed performance.
DPS PAGODA TOUR SKIS
DPS Skis are known for innovation and performance in a variety of mountain conditions and environments. We had the opportunity to try out their new Pagoda Tour 2020-2021 line. We wanted a ski that was light enough for long uphills tours and steep hikes, but also versatile enough to perform well in a variety of mountain conditions. We tested them out on a 12-mile ski tour to Blue Lake Hut in the San Juans, at Telluride Resort and heli-skiing at Silverton Mountain. The result was nothing short of amazing.
We pushed these skis to the limit and experienced a level of downhill performance that we haven’t seen before in a ski this light. The key to Pagoda Tour’s performance is both in the choice of materials and how they are layered. By mating DPS’ proprietary new carbon laminate with a combination of ash and paulownia woods, and a purpose-built aerospace grade foam – that features incredible physical properties at minimal weight – a special alchemy emerges. The result is a distinct combination of power, energy, and dampness that rivals front-side oriented skis at classic touring weights. DPS will offer these for sale mid July during their Dreamtime sales event.
DYNAFIT ST RADICAL 92 BINDINGS & DPS NORI POLES
We had our DPS skis outfitted with Dynafit ST Radical touring bindings — the resurrection of their first Radical ST. We enjoyed these bindings for their easier handling and increased safety in addition to the serious light weight. Now offered in different colors and significantly lighter than ever.
For poles we loved the adjustable DPS Nori Pole, with sweet upgrades, including the Powerlock 3.0 locking mechanism for ultimate in-motion security, a new protective lower aluminum sleeve that coats the carbon lower arm, and new pole artwork.
You’ll also need a pair of climbing skins on your skis for the trek uphill. Our choice was the Climb Pro S-Glide from DPS for $209.96. These skins feature the latest technology and are designed for experienced ski tourers and amateur competitors. Made with 70% mohair and 30% nylon, they’re mixed structure skin is ideal for multi-day expeditions, offering extra performance and gliding qualities. We found them to be one of the best gliding mix skins we’ve experienced with excellent gliding performance, good traction and the utmost resistance.
ARC’TERYX BORA AR 63 MEN’S BACKPACK
If you’re looking to do a multi-day ski tour, then you’re gonna need a backpack to carry all your gear. This includes food/drink, a sleeping bag, avalanche kit and extra clothing. Our choice for a multi-day hut tour was the Arc’teryx Bora AR 63 backpack. With gear capacity for most 4-7 day trips, the Bora AR 63 leverages hybrid materials and advanced hipbelt technology. The RotoGlide™ hipbelt rotates side-to-side and glides up and down for a more natural stride that reduces chafing and improves balance. We also loved the GridLock™ shoulder straps which adjust both in width and height for a precision fit. The pack body made in 420d and 630d durable nylon fabrics are capped with weatherproof AC² fabric in areas exposed to rain or snow.
BLACK DIAMOND AVALANCHE SAFETY KIT
Avalanche safety is paramount in the backcountry. In addition to the right gear, you should be trained in avalanche safety protocols. Avalanche.org offers some great introductory courses as do many local guide shops. When touring or skiing in the backcountry, remember the basics: look for cracked snow to indicate an avalanche, ski downhill on a 45 degree angle away from any avalanche and tread water if caught in one while using your elbow to create an air pocket over your mouth.
You also have to know how to use your avalanche safety gear. This consists of an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. Black Diamond provides a complete collection of avalanche safety essentials for the everyday backcountry traveler, this package features durable, lightweight and easy-to-use tools that are ideal for anytime you venture into backcountry terrain. Our choice was the Black Diamond Recon BT Avy Safety Kit which comes with everything you need for basic avalanche safety.
RENT GEAR FROM RIDGWAY ADVENTURE SPORTS
If you’re not quite ready to invest in all the ski touring gear, then we recommend renting first. Our belief is that once you do, you’ll be hooked. So be sure to come back and reference this guide once you’ve been bitten by the ski touring bug.
One of our favorite spots for ski touring is in the San Juan Mountain range in southwestern Colorado. The San Juan Mountains are high and rugged with lot’s of national park forest and opportunities for alpine ski touring. For your first tour, we recommend renting with the team over at Ridgway Adventure Sports. Their fully equipped adventure sports shop is conveniently located in Ridgway which is only a short drive from Montrose airport and the San Juan Mountain range.
We recommend their AT Ski Rental Package which includes skis, skins, boots and poles for $70 per day with 25% off 3 days or more and 35% off 7 days or more. Owners Amanda and Andy will get you setup with everything you need and work with you to find gear that’s perfect what you need. They also have a fully stocked gear shop with adventure supplies for backcountry touring, cross-country skiing, mountain biking and more.
We used this opportunity to test out the DPS Wailer 106 Tour skis as well as a few pairs of boots. Take our advice and go with a slightly bigger sized boot if necessary or risk bad blisters on your way up. We had to switch our boots out mid-trip after opting to first go with a tighter size.
There truly is no better time to get outside and experience nature. With the right gear and equipment, alpine ski touring is a great way to spend time in the mountains. There a variety of locations across the US and abroad ideal for ski touring. Our advice is to find a spot that works for you, research the trails and talk to local guides before venturing out. Be sure to follow guidance from local avalanche authorities and most importantly, have fun out there!