Monday, April 11, 2016

New and Good ski gear

Although it’s almost mid-April and for many folks it’s nearing the end of ski season (even though the snowpacks are at their zenith for the year, and there will be plenty more good days  - including powder days - left to ski) I thought I’d do a quick summary of some new ski gear that I got a lot of use out of this season that I had high hopes for and they all definitely proved their worth.  Not that anybody besides me cares what I use, but I'm harboring illusions of grandeur....

I was wandering around the Outdoor Retailer trade show in August and saw back in the small brand/small booth/back 40 area a booth for “ThermaCell” that caught my eye, and after ordering a pair of their footbeds I am not sure how I made it so long without them!  I’ve always struggled with cold toes, and while I love winter and skiing I annually go into the season somewhat dreading another prolonged period of  cold toes.  I have tried the Thermic footbeds with the external battery packs that hook to your boot and have the dangly cord going into the shell and through a hole in the liner, but the battery pack is heavy, awkwardly placed on the shell and very vulnerable to getting lost, and difficult to turn on due to it being under the pant legs, but at least they’re expensive.  Enter ThermaCell:

These guys have focused on the huntin' and fishin' markets and have come up with a pretty awesome product for the cold-toes crowd.  The evolution of battery technology has enabled these babies to have all the batteries held inside the footbed itself, they weigh barely more than a regular footbed, are easily plugged into to recharge at night:

give off noticeable heat for >5 hours, and the best part:

The remote-control switch.  Toes getting a little chilly?  Just reach into your pocket, push the button, and within minutes the heat is on.  I usually cycle them on and off as needed (not very often) to keep the charge going for a longer day.  

Along those lines, they also make rechargeable hand warmers.  

I know, those little cotton-covered chemical pack handwarmer things are fine, but again I usually just need a heat blast, not an all-day warm pack, and half the time it seems like I kept them too long jiggling around in my pack so they went bad - that I only discover when I really need them - and I feel like an idiot having carried them around all season, but at least I gotta then throw them away.  The ThermaCell handwarmers are a little big and they really only work with mittens or trigger-fingered “glittens” (or is that “mives”?) but again, the convenience of being able to turn them on as needed as opposed to having the disposable styles be “on” all day and then throwing them away is great.

I got the Voile V6’s late last season and only got a few days on them, so this was the first “real” season I’ve skied on them.

 and as such I’ve had them in all sorts of conditions, everywhere from hard/icy/steep to perfect corn to deep blower powder, and I’ve been amazed at how well they handle it all, from Wasatch Wiggle turns to 60 mph railing.   With a mild rocker and at 100mm underfoot they are plenty of ski for as deep a snow as we get.   I skied the bigger V8 in deep powder and realized that anything bigger is really just overkill, but at least it’s more specialized; I think 100 underfoot is about as big as I like to go for making quicker turns and climbing challenging, off-camber skin tracks.    And while the V6 isn’t “light” compared to something like the comparably-sized Sportiva Vapor Nano or DSP Wailer 99, it’s also half the price of those. 

I’ve also had the chance to try Voile’s newest rig, the Objective. 
the graphics will change a bit for production 
Voile  -true to their Wasatch roots  -have always been a bit oriented towards powder skiing, starting with the original – and much-beloved – Mountain Surf, but they are recognizing that companies like Movement and Dynafit are getting a lot of play with a narrower-waisted, bigger-sidecutted ski in a really light package for, well….objectives!  Ie longer approaches and steeper lines.  I personally think that their Wasatch Speed Project skimo skis are surprisingly versatile given their diminutive size, but The Market thinks they are only appropriate for the spandex skimo crowd, so having a really light but very skiable ski as an option for days when weight feels like it’ll be an issue is a very logical solution.  The light swing weight of the Objectives makes them flip around skinner switchbacks really easily and enables easy 180 hop turns on steep lines, and the stiffness profile and sidecut generates confidence that the skis will “stick” on said 180 turns above cliffs and rocks.  It's likely a quiver ski for most folks, but a valuable one, and realistically they also ski just fine in all but the deepest days.  And again they'll likely be cheaper than most of their competitors, despite being made in SLC by Wasatch backcountry skiers!  

The Quiver, for size reference.
Voile was a little reluctant to put a tip notch in the Objectives for the Euro-style tip-elastic'd skins, fearing that the visual might pigeonhole it as spandex-only tool.  But the production model will indeed have a tip notch.  Once you start using tip-notch skins and realize the ease of bending down to grab and pull the skin from the tip you’ll wonder why the industry moved away from that in the first place and has been making us awkwardly grab the tail piece and rip forwards.   But at least that “elastic” plastic tail piece falls off a couple of times a day and breaks at least twice a season! 

For what it’s worth, I have also realized that most tech bindings  -including the majority of Dynafit’s selection - are a bit overkill; the lightweight race bindings work just fine despite their anemic look, and though I haven’t used them, I think the bindings that will allay skeptics’ fears are the Dynafit Superlights. is probably the best site and best resource for cool, lighter weight ski gear.  

I have also been using the new Atomic Backland boots: 

The Dynafit TLT 5 and then the TLT 6 seemed to have created the standard for lightweight, big range-of-motion, but very skiable boots, but Atomic did a great job of making a viable competitor, especially considering that Atomic is basically an alpine brand and their first couple of AT models were on the big/burly side.   The boots walk almost as well as my Scarpa Aliens, are not much heavier, and ski pretty much just as well as my Black Diamond Quadrants.  They are a little finicky:  the removeable plastic tongue is a bit more awkward to get into place than the Dynafit version (but I just stopped using it, and it’s fine; brother Paul has taken to just leaving the tongue in place and they still walk ok), the cuff overlap has a tendency to overlap incorrectly (Paul addressed this with some pop bottle plastic and some epoxy), the buckles got a bit overthought and are a little too hard to get them to pull over-center, but it’s easy to get past these issues.  Theoretically the shell itself is thermomoldable so it should fit a wider range of people, though our buddy Colin – with a low-volume, wide foot  - took full advantage (and then some) of’s great customer service trying to get the fit right and was unsuccessful. But their last should accommodate most feet pretty well.

At the Wasatch Powder Keg I won a sil nylon Camp ski pack; for years I’d thought about getting one of those but was always trying to figure out how to use packs that I had that would enable light/fast touring or skimo racing.  

After getting this pack I’m now of course fully sold; it holds a surprising amount of stuff, rides really well, and of course has almost no weight to it at all when empty. I know, all the other skimo dudes (both of them) who might be reading this are saying:  “No shit! Of course it’s great!” but I guess I’m a slow learner, or at least stubborn enough to keep stumbling along with sub-par products convincing myself that I might be able to make them work.  That said, for me this pack is mostly a spring thing, and I’ll likely still be toting around my heavy BCA Float avy balloon pack for much of the season, since I think it's a pretty viable piece of safety equipment that increases my odds a little.  

Inside that pack I was delighted to find a pair of Camp’s clever gloves with the insulated mitt cover thing that stows away in the wrist. 

Also a common skimo thing that lots of people have already discovered, but I have liked them as much as I anticipated.

I got the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody early this season, and I have worn this thing more than any other this winter.  

the body and ribs have some thin synthetic insulation so it's quick to warm but the full zip means you can get some good cooling if you zip it all the way down.  I have historically not been a big hood guy because it seems like they are just snow-catchers that dump snow on your head right at the moment that you want the warmth that a hood provides, but this one lies flat on your upper back.  

And last but not least, I got a pair of Truck gloves this winter that have been great. 

For many years I bought into the concept that most of the manufacturers have been espousing  with gloves that more is better and that having a plastic bag (ie a waterproof/”breathable” liner surrounding your hand was a good thing, until I realized that it wasn’t.
brother Paul gave me the idea to give these moves/glitts some surgery; cut that black layer open and you can pull out the sweat-inducing, hand-clammatizing membrane
I also thought that the gauntlet-length was important to keeping my wrists warm, but now with thumbed thermal shirts (and on the Deviator above) and after seeing increasing numbers of folks using simple insulated leather gloves to ski in I decided to give it a go with locally-owned Truck.  They have been surprisingly warm, surprisingly breathable and versatile, and waterproof as long as you treat them with oil/snow seal periodically, and are only $30.  To satisfy those who still "need" the gauntlet and the plastic bag they are doing that version as well, for $65 (half the price of the comparable Black Diamond gloves).  

With a decent snowpack around the West in general and the fact that the spring meltoff only historically gets going around this time there's still plenty of good skiing to be had; guy reminded us that the biggest storm of last season happened on Tax Day.  It may not be a great time to buy gear, but all this stuff will be around come fall when the winter fever starts to set in.....

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