Entering the world of backcountry skiing can be overwhelming. Aside from the inherent risks of advanced terrain and being far from help, there is so much specialized gear to choose from when building out your kit. While you can make do with some alpine or Nordic gear, you’ll surely optimize your experience by adding backcountry-specific softgoods and hardgoods to your pack list.
By Andrew Drummond
The backcountry segment is reaching a new level of maturation, which means the gear is excellent across most brands, but there are still a few standout items that pop up each winter. We’ve picked a few products that are often overlooked and can make your winter tours that much more enjoyable. Here are several items that we think you’ll love.
We dismissed these funny-looking things when they surfaced a few years ago. It turns out, we didn’t know what we were missing out on. It all makes sense when you think about it: we carry puffy jackets to throw on our upper body when we get cold but what about our lower extremities? Apparently, they have been neglected for years. Easy to put on and take off with full zips, then pack up into a grapefruit-sized stuff sack. You’ll never look back once you try these on.
Another overlooked piece of equipment that is worth every penny when you need it. Ski crampons are perfect for steep approaches (think hiking trails) where you need more traction than your skins can offer. Slide in your ski crampons and you’ll be rewarded with efficient travel without post-holing or catching your skis on every branch along the way. Ski crampons are specific to the binding manufacturer and require a crampon slot on the toe piece. Size a little wider than the waist of your ski.
A good pack has a place for all your gear, organized and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. We like packs in the 35 to 45L size for day tours in the White Mountains. This means no excuses for not being prepared with room for warm layers, food, and a dedicated pocket for avalanche gear. Added features include an easy-to-use ski carry, back-zip entry, helmet, and ice ax carry, and most importantly, comfortable! Our picks are the Norrona Lyngen Pack (35 or 45L) or the Mammut Nirvana 35 (there’s a short version for short torsos, too).
Dynafit was the pioneer in modern tech bindings, but we’ve seen companies innovate on what they invented. Just think same taste, half the calories. ATK is an Italian company that makes beautifully machined metal bindings that are simple and easy to use, but weigh in at just 200 to 400 grams per binding. That adds up with every step, and we didn’t find terrain these bindings couldn’t handle with release values for all skier types.
We can’t think of a reason why you would head into the backcountry without a helmet. It’s a piece of equipment that should be comfortable enough (both in weight and fit) that you might forget you have it on. The Pret Cynic AT is our pick, as it has all the features we look for in a touring helmet: lightweight (415g/M), removable ear flaps with venting across the top, dial-fit adjustment mechanism, and Velcro headlamp straps for night missions.
Thank you to Andrew Drummond and Ski The Whites for providing this article to MWV Vibe. Photo credits to Ski The Whites and Chris Shane.
Avalanche Courses in MWV
Understanding where and how avalanches happen and what to do is an essential skill for backcountry skiing.
International Mountain Climbing School
Eastern Mountain Sports Schools
East Coast Avalanche Education
The Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop
Mount Washington Avalanche Center
Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School
Local Non-profit Organizations Supporting Backcountry Skiing and Search and Rescue
Want to give back? These local nonprofits support gathering and broadcasting critical weather and safety information, develop and maintain the backcountry zones, and support search and rescue efforts in the region.
Mount Washington Avalanche Center
White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation
Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol
Androscoggin Valley Search and Rescue
Appalachian Mountain Club NH Chapter Ski Committee
Catch this article in the Winter 2021/22 print edition of Mt Washington Valley Vibe!