WritingsThoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.
Choose your Tools: Gear Selection for Backcountry Skiing
I am excited to announce this project, which will be ongoing over the course of the next few weeks, published in digestible parts. I hope to produce a resource that’s valuable to you, whether you’re new to ski-touring or a backcountry master. After this introduction, look forward to a series of posts which will appear in the blog feed, and which will also be linked to from the bottom of this page. Cheers! and happy skiing!
The purpose of this series of posts is to break down not just the gear required for different types of ski touring, but also the principles that govern gear choices for the backcountry and the result that these principles have on gear selections for different days out in the field. Plenty has been written about this subject, but there is a lot of misinformation, or at least, a lot of poorly organized and synthesized information out there. I propose that a gear list of the sort that one finds on some full-page spread in Powder Magazine or on the TGR forums, while useful as a mental checklist, doesn’t contain much information that is transferable to different climates, snow packs, objectives, and styles of skiing.
In the series to follow, I’ll discuss the principles of gear selection based on the type of endeavor, be it fast-and-light in-a-day traverses, or storm riding on big powder boards. The gear selected is dictated by goals, past and expected weather, terrain choices, and avalanche danger. The advice comes from the personal experience of an ex-gear nut– In both the Pacific Northwest concrete and in the champagne of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. I’ve spent too many hours thinking about and using gear from 120 mm underfoot to lightweight racing skis, enjoying all of it. These articles do, however, limit themselves to a discussion of skiing which doesn’t require a rope, be it for climbing or rappelling. That’s beyond the scope of this discussion and will be the subject of a future post.
This advice also comes from an ex-outdoor educator, who understands well that technique, improvisation, planning, and above all, a brain, cannot be replaced by gear. In this series, intelligent consideration isn’t replaced by gear, but supplemented by it. This isn’t just a gear list. It’s a system for thinking about what you’ll carry on your body and on your back, and how this will meet your needs and goals.
In these posts, I discuss a systems approach to the “ten essentials”, which I reduce to the 7 Needs. Then will come a discussion of Avalanche Hazard: how terrain choices, education, weather, and snowpack determine the tools that you need to deal with them. Then, to the core of the issue: I’ll address Three Types of Touring Days, from the fast and light to the deep powder storm-riding, and how Goals Shape Gear. Lastly, I’ll devote a post to the three types of days, reiterating how the previously discussed needs manifest in each. In these I’ll include a printable gear list that you can use to organize your own packing, as well as gear recommendations based on my experience destroying tried-and-true products. They’ll be all you need to get started on any given day, or to check your thinking if you’re already a backcountry samurai.
Oh, and one last though from a retired gear nut: remember that gear is just a means to an end. It is enabling, and it is fun to obsess over, but really it’s all about getting out into the mountains. Getting outside means using what you have now. It’s fine to plan how you want to build your kit over time, what changes you want to make to the contents of your pack, etc, but unless we’re talking about avalanche gear, don’t think that you can’t enjoy the mountains just because you’re not walking on carbon fiber. Get outside, and make good decisions out there.