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Tagged ‘gear‘

Shorts: Airbag Packs

Airbag packs make you safer. Yes they’re expensive, but your life is worth it. They add some weight, but hey, you’re not being responsible if you’re not protecting yourself, right?

Right?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of conversations about airbag packs with family and friends, and I’ve been hearing a lot about them through various media. Slide: The Avalanche Podcast had an excellent discussion of their use, which partly informs my view. The Cripple Creek Backcountry Podcast mentioned their use in two recent episodes (here and here).

On Cripple Creek, they talk about how they insist that every shop employee wear an airbag, always. They say that they like the extra safety, especially when they’re trying to go faster or father when they might not communicate as much. They ask, could airbags have provided some trauma protection to Jason Dorais should he actually have been carried during a slide last year?

This talk makes me angry. Read on →

Is it snowing?

October is a damned month, when the single track is ripe but all forces conspire to distract a fellow with the prospect of skiing. Highly-produced ski films, like Christmas decorations, come earlier every year, and the internet is abuzz with atmospheric predictions and ski porn live-streamed from South America.

I’ll admit, I am excited to go skiing, but with a trip to Japan scheduled for the middle of December, the feeling isn’t too pressing. There’s just no getting around the beautiful fall leaves and crip, clear days that make anything but skiing seem deeply appealing. I managed to work in day of turns-all-year quality skiing last week, so the piper has been paid for now.

Still, that’s not to say that I’m not preparing for the season. Two international trips and a wedding make it unlikely that I’ll be doing much racing this year, but I still want to come into the season fit and ready to go fast. Read on →

DIY: Resizing Fixed-Length Ski Poles

I have a quick tech tip for you today. Fixed-length poles are becoming more popular for backcountry skiing because they’re stiffer and generally lighter than adjustable poles. They are, however, not adjustable. If you get too big a size, you’ll find yourself walking around with your hands up like a mummy, feeling like an idiot with cold hands.

When we were in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, we stopped by Skimo.co to say hi. The store is amazing. If you like skiing lots of vert on light, capable gear, you’ve got to check the place out. When we asked Jason if he would shorten Taylor’s carbon ski poles, he suggested a simple home fix: boil the handles off, cut, reglue. Perfect!

Skimo.co: all of the lightweight european kit that you can't buy anywhere else.

Skimo.co: all of the lightweight european kit that you can’t buy anywhere else.

So, if your poles are too long, or you can find a great deal on longer poles and want to cut them down, I’ve got you covered, step by step. All you need is a big pot of boiling water, a hacksaw, and some glue. Buyer beware: some poles have a tapered shaft, and if cut too short you’ll have a hard time filling the extra space to glue the handle back on. Read on →

Guaranteed Gear: 8 Holiday Ideas That Don’t Suck

We’re passionate about sharing our stories and motivating you to get outside. It makes everything that we do here worthwhile when we run into one of you in the flesh and you tell us that our articles got you excited to plan trips of your own. It’s amazing, humbling, and drives us to work harder.

Still, we’re not rich, and running this site costs hundreds of dollars. To make up for it, we work in some advertising and we get a small cut when you use our links to buy gear. This week I’m doing something a little different and offering some gift ideas for your most beloved gearhead. Unlike what you find on, ahem, other sites, I make you a promise: these things DO NOT SUCK. These are pure wins that I or someone close to me have beaten to death out of love. They’re guaranteed to please.

So enjoy! Help support Mountain Lessons by clicking our links and shopping for some gear. We’ll be here next year either way, because we love you. But it helps.


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Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Jacket: A seriously warm jacket made with high quality down that packs small enough for daily carry while out skiing. It uses synthetic insulation in the hood and cuffs to keep you warm when it’s wet outside. It’s spendy because it’s just better than the competition. Read on →

D.I.Y. Skimo Skin Tip Attachments

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Home-made race-style tip fix. Clean and simple.

There are a lot of skin options available these days with retailers like Skimo.co bringing more of the European variety to the USA. Unfortunately, tip attachments on pre-built skins are like cell-phone chargers; they’re unstandardized and are often poorly cross-compatible with other manufacturer’s platforms.

The recent availability of skins sold in bulk (from a roll) makes possible a solution to this problem. You can pick your skin, your width, your length, and put it all together by making your own tip attachment. This is easy, kinda fun in a dorky way, and produces an equal product that is both cheaper and lighter than commercial offerings.

The one caveat here is that we’re making race-style skins, which require a notch in the ski tip for fixation. This style of attachment also doesn’t use a tail-fix, so good skinning technique is required. The advantage of the “tip fix” is that it makes removing the skin from your ski while wearing the ski infinitely easier and faster than traditional fixation methods. The only downside to the system is that the lack of a tail-fix can lead to skin failures in certain conditions, such as breaking trail through steep, loose snow, which leads one to slide backwards slightly with each step.

Still, despite that downside, I’ve converted entirely to skins without a tail-fix. After a short learning curve, they’re just simpler and lighter. An added benefit of using race-style skins is that they are so thin and subsequently light that a backup pair can be carried without being a burden. Black Diamond nylon skins are Hummer H2s compared to these Porsches.

What follows is a step by step pictorial guide to making your own tip fix system at home. This is the second time that I’ve built skins at home, and the process took 25 minutes from start to finish. If this is your first time, allow yourself an hour and measure twice, cut once. Please comment with any questions that you might have. You will need the following equipment, or similar:

  • – Sharp knife
  • – Stout scissors
  • – Sharpie
  • – Scrap piece of paperboard
  • – Some virgin skins
  • – Lighter
  • – Two (2) soda bottle tops
  • – Three (3) feet of 1/4″ elastic cord
  • – Allen wrench or similar metal object
  • – A speedy-stitcher or riveter (see below)

Read on →

Making a SkiMo Tow Rope

When I started researching techniques for partner skimo racing, a common theme emerged: lots of winning teams use a towing system to attach the partners to each other. I had an inkling that this happened because my Camp Race 260 pack had come with a tow system built in. Still, it seemed silly. However, as I though more about the psychological and logistical difficulties of racing with a partner, who no doubt possesses different skills and strengths, the potentially massive benefit of a tow rope became clear to me. In this post, I explain the pros and cons of using a tow, how to make one for yourself, and how to use it. For those not familiar with a rope tow, the system is simple: A length of elastic material connects the back of one racer to the front of another, usually with a carabiner-style attachment.

Purpose: Why Use a Tow Rope

The primary use for a tow rope is to help to average out the pace and fitness of partners. Without fail, one racer will be better on the climbs, or stronger at longer distances. By using a tow rope to remain tethered to one-another, the team is able to work as an average of their abilities. Without a rope, the team must travel at the pace of the slower partner (many partner races exact penalties for excessive distance between partners). With a tow rope, the stronger partner is able to assist the slower partner, and the team moves together at a pace faster than they would otherwise. The rope can also provide some physical assistance to the slower partner, offering a tug uphill or across the flats to make their effort less.

Distant partner needs a tow rope

Does your partner love you? They might love you more with a tow rope. (Ethan Linck crossing snow dome, Mt Hood.)

Read on →

GoreTex Grand Traverse: Q&A with Team Crested Butte’s Jon Brown

GoreTex Grand Traverse Logo

The GoreTex Grand Traverse (formerly the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse) is the grand-daddy of North American ski traverses.  Departing Crested Butte at midnight, the unsupported course climbs roughly 40 miles past two checkpoints before finishing down Aspen Mountain into the town of Aspen. Because the race takes place on an unmarked and largely unsupported course through the Colorado backcountry, the race is completed as a team of two, and racers are required to carry the equipment necessary to make an emergency 24 hour bivouac.


The night start, huge mileage, variable terrain, and historically varied weather make this a race to be reckoned with. Racers need to keep themselves warm, hydrated, fueled and, well, racing for 8-14 hours. Compared to the Wasatch Powderkeg or other North American SkiMo races, it is logistically complex.

This year will be my first in the race and I, like many first time racers, had a lot of questions. Jon Brown, from Team Crested Butte, was gracious enough to talk training, gear, and strategy with me.

Team Crested Butte

Old school Team Crested Butte at Grandvalira. LtoR: Jon Brown, Jari Kirkland, Brian Wickenhauser & Eric Sullivan

Jon Brown is a member of Team Crested Butte, and he has raced the Grand Traverse 10 out of the last 12 years. He and his partner Brian Smith won the 2006 traverse by a hair, sneaking across the finish line between another pair of racers.

He started nordic skiing in highschool but since discovering SkiMo skis, his nordic kit has been collecting dust in his garage. Jon began his race career as a mountain bike racer after graduating from Western State Colorado University, paying the bills by working as a raft guide, barista, and snowmobile guide. In his 30s he moved to Gunnison where he started a small publishing company and started adventure racing with Team Crested Butte.

TCB has since evolved from an adventure racing team into one of the strongest SkiMo teams in North America. Read on →

The Ideal Ice Axe for Mountaineering

A friend asked: If you could have only one ice axe, what would it be? There are ice tools, ice axes, piolets, hammers, glacier walkers, third tools, and oh my many more. But one axe to do it all? That’s a tough question. Still, winter is right around the corner, and I have an answer for you.

black diamond, petzl, and camp ice axe

Many choices

Firstly, it’s important to clarify that I am not going to include a discussion of ice tools. An ice tool is a specialized axe that is designed to climb steep to vertical ice and mixed terrain. They come in many shapes and sizes, and they are, for the most part, very specialized tools. The average ice tool is shit for walking on a glacier, self-belaying on steep snow, building anchors, etc. They still carry out these tasks in skilled hands, but they’re far from ideal.

For most climbers, a more all-around tool will be much more useful. When selecting such a tool, it is important to consider length, material, shaft style, and head: Read on →

Choose Your Tools: Skiing light, fast, and far.

This is Part 5 of the Choose Your Tools series.  Also check out Part 4: Universal Gear Truths.

Going Light

The world's lightest ski boot, the Pierre Gignoux XP-444.  590g. You don't need these.

The world’s lightest ski boot, the Pierre Gignoux XP-444. 590g. You don’t need these.

Going fast and light is, among a small but growing crowd, all the rage these days.  This makes a lot of sense considering the currently plummeting gear weights and the growing popularity of backcountry touring. In small, speedy enclaves throughout the Mountain West, folks are experimenting with the low-end of the weight spectrum, stealing techniques and technology from mountain-racing disciplines to push the limits of minimalist weight and maximum vert.

Going Light is defined here as seeking to use the minimum gear possible to achieve the greatest amount of mountain travel.  Lightening you pack, clothing, boots and skis frees the energy that would be used to tow those pounds around, and that energy can be applied to traveling farther or faster in the hills.  Just as fast-packing and distance trail running are coming to dominate classic backpacking routes, so too is lightweight skiing turning previously multi-day traverses and enchainments into impressive day trips. Read on →

Installing B&D Ski Crampons

B&D Ski Crampon

B&D Classic Ski 80 mm Ski Crampons, 261g

After our circumnavigation of Mt Hood recently, I’ll be damned if I was going to have to circumnavigate another volcano or ski amazing PNW corn snow without ski crampons.  To reiterate what I’ve said before, you don’t always want ski crampons, but when you do, nothing else will suffice.  Specifically, if there’s a very slick but breakable snow surface  booting will be hateful  but skinning can be on a spectrum from near-impossible to extremely energy intensive.  Ski crampons fix this problem. Read on →