23 February 2017

Where to Buy Backcountry Ski Gear



Like most outdoor pursuits, you need a lot of stuff for backcounty skiing. Between hard goods and soft goods (and tutus) you can expect to spend anywhere from $2,000 to $12,000 to get outside. Yikes! Since you really do need all of this stuff, here's a handy guide for where to spend, where to scrimp, and where to find the gear you need (assuming you live in the greater Seattle area).

And if you're completely new, check out this Backcountry 101 post outlining the gear you need and how it works and my post about How To Get Started Backcountry Skiing.

Where to spend:


Boots

Most people think about skiing as a leg-intensive sport, and it is. But it's also a foot-intensive sport. You control your ski primarily with the stabilizing muscles in your feet. When your boot fits well, your skis will be responsive to these micro-movements. When your boot is too big, your foot will work to control your skis to little avail. When your boots are too small.... well, we all know how that goes down.

Buy new boots. Just do it. Spend the money and get what you want. Most boots these days come with moldable liners (and the bootfitters will do this for free when you buy in-store) and all boot shells can be "punched out" if they squeeze you in specific places. Do buy boots that feel pretty good on your feet already, and do have them molded and fit by a professional. I also recommend spending the extra money to get custom foot-beds, but these aren't necessary. Do not buy boots that don't feel right on your foot expecting to "punch them out" to comfort and just don't buy used boots unless you can remold the liners and are planning to buy custom foot beds.

Bindings

Like boots, bindings are expensive. They are also heavy, and the type of binding you get will directly impact the level of fun that's achievable in the backcountry. Unless you plan on primarily skiing in the resort and doing only a little sidecountry action, do not get a hybrid touring binding. You want a straight up, light-weight tech binding like this one from Dynafit.

I know, I know, there's like a $100-$200 difference between the two. Let me put it this way: think about the moment when you're outside in the snow, completely wallowing. How much would you pay in that moment to not be suffering? Forward that money to today and buy the binding that weighs half as much. Tech bindings are easier to tour in, easier to carry, and don't freeze up and refuse to lock into ski mode the same way hybrid bindings do.

Waterproof/Breathable

Living in the Pacific Northwest, where it will rain while you are skiing, having gear that is waterproof is a good idea. The catch-22? You also want it to be breathable. This is so you can sweat under your clothes while it's raining without creating a rainforest inside your coat. At some point, you will just be wet, but the longer you can stave off that reality, the better.

Pick a few key pieces of gear and spend more for waterproof, breathable materials. Start with your jacket, ski pants, and backpack. If you're feeling ambitious, throw gloves/mitts in there too. The good news is, you can buy this stuff used. Make sure to follow the care instructions and treat your outwear regularly with Nikwax.

Where to skimp:


Skis

Skis are like cars - the second you "drive them off the lot" you lose half the value. And like cars, they deteriorate over time but can last a damn long while with basic care. Scour the "Where to buy" links below for used skis. Be sure they have been well maintained. Avoid skis with huge, unrepaired core shots, rusty edges, or skis with multiple previous owners (as that means the skis have probably been drilled more than once for binding mounts). You get bonus points if you can find skis with bindings and skins cut to match!

Poles

Seriously - you do not need fancy poles. You can get fancy poles, but you don't need them. Go to Goodwill and find some that fit you, or buy them used at the end of the season from a demo shop. Collapsible poles are great for long, multi-day trips and are conveninet for packing the car, but you don't need them. To find poles that fit grab a pair, flip them upside down, and grab with your hand right under the basket. If your arm is at a 90-degree angle, the poles are the right length. You can use your trekking poles for skiing too - just swap out the trekking baskets for bigger powder baskets.

Soft Goods

Like poles, you do not need fancy soft goods. I wrote an entire blog about how to layer for the backcountry, and any of the layers I reference can be bought at a steep discount. Right now (mid-February) is a really great time to score deals at your local retailer (on things like ski socks, long underwear, fleece, jackets, pants, and, my personal favorite, down booties). Go out there and knock yourself out.


Were to buy:


Proski Seattle

Located on Aurora Avenue at 90th in North Seattle, Proski is a little gem run by Mike, Michael, and John. They do big business out of a small shop and are super helpful regardless of your knowledge and ability level. They're patient teachers, great boot-fitters, and just damn excited about their jobs. Seriously, I LOVE this place and have only ever had the best service. Tell them Kristina from The Mountaineers sent you and they'll hook you up with a discount. Seriously.

Evo

Evo is the other great ski shop in Seattle. They're bigger than Proski and have a larger selection. In my experience they are skilled at boot fitting and do a good job on ski tunes. The staff tends to be a little less knowledgeable about all the gear (in part because it's such a big shop with more stuff), but if you do some online research in advance and know what you want, this is a good place to go.

Second Ascent

In the heart of Ballard in Seattle, Second Ascent is a great place to find great second hand gear and good deals on new stuff as well. They have an incredible variety packed into a welcoming shop, and do great bike and ski repairs.

Turns-All-Year

Turns-All-Year, or TAY, is a website forum for backcountry skiing. You can post and view trip reports, find partners, and sell gear. Check out their Yardsale section for deals on everything from skis and skins to packs and poles.

Cascade Climbers

Cascade Climbers is the TAY for climbing, but a fair number of skiers are active on there as well. CC also has a Yard Sale forum to buy and sell gear. Keep in mind the geographic reach of both of these sites is broad, so you may end up paying for shipping or driving far distances to pick up the gear.

Backcountry.com

Reputable discount website for backcountry gear - they basically sell overstock items. You can find a lot of clothing in last year's colors and discontinued ski gear here. Take note of the return policy. Bonus: Mountaineers members get a discount.

Steep and Cheap

The crack-cocaine of gear. They put a new "deal" on until it sells out, often there's a new deal every 2-7 minutes. If you like gear and don't like getting any work done whatsoever, check this website out. It's addictive, and you will buy more than you need, but dammit if you don't think you need all that stuff at the time! Visit the home page and select "current steal" to get the best deals, or you can shop around. They're owned by Backcountry.com, so everything you see here in the regular site you can get at Backcountry too.

Craigslist 

This is pretty self-explanatory. You can find anything on Craigslist and it's always worth looking. In general, I've found that the experienced backcountry enthusiasts will use TAY or CC, or the Facebook groups below, to sell their gear because it's more specialized. Craigslist is a good place to find deals on soft goods.

Facebook Groups: Turns All Year and PNW Ski Classifieds

Folks are migrating away from visiting forums directly and are instead forming groups on Facebook instead. These are two great groups for finding and selling gear. You need to request to join, but assuming you aren't a crazy person, they're easy to get into and worth exploring.

Happy Shopping!



16 February 2017

5 Things You Didn't Know About Backcountry Skiing



Alpine Touring (aka randonee skiing or splitboarding) is surging in popularity. An estimated 6 million skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. are now exploring the backcountry, according to Snowsports Industries America (SIA). By many estimates Alpine Touring is the fastest growing sport in all of outdoor recreation (for more context on how bc skiing works, read Backcountry 101).

I get the hype. Spending time in the backcountry is incredible. It's quiet, challenging, and offers endless possibilities. If you'rediscovering the freedom and exhilaration of backcountry exploration for the first time - welcome! In our great Pacific Northwest the opportunities to play are seemingly boundless, and, thanks to the 200+ glaciers in Washington State alone, you can get outside all year round.

I just celebrated my 5-year backcountry skiaversary. I'm stoked to live in a place that has given  me the privilege of earning my turns for the last 64-consecutive months. I've written about what you need to know to get started in the backcountry, but I still learn with every day spent on the snow in the backcountry.

To help you on your own journey of discovery, here are 5 Things You Didn't Know About Backcountry Skiing: 


It'll take you a while to find partners.... 


When I first started skiing, I was disappointed that the community didn't suddenly open its arms and say, "Hey Kristina! We see you! Come over here and ski with us!" Instead, the process of getting integrated took longer than I thought. I was active in the local forums, attended events hosted by our avalanche center, and tried to ingratiate myself with the many bc ski people I met, but ultimately it took about a year to find my "posse".

My advice is to keep working until you find the right group of people. It's important they share your level of skill, ambition, and risk aversion. For me, this happened when I met my heterosexual-adventure-life partner Theresa at 9,000ft on Mt. Hood. I also had a lot of luck meeting folks using related hashtags on Instagram if you can believe it - Instafriends! Keep in mind that you'll ask a lot of people to ski with you, and they'll probably forget to get back to you. But keep asking. From personal experience, I have a group of 4-5 people I always call to ski. It's not that I don't want to ski with you, it's just that I forget because you aren't part of my normal 'program'. Be persistent and you'll find partners for life.

....and to discover places to call your own.


The outdoors offers endless possibilities for backcountry travel, but knowing where to go - and when - is just as complicated as finding a partner to join you. In Washington, we have a great backcountry routes book and an awesome forum to share routes, and those are great places to start. But resources will only get you so far. To discover the real backcountry gems, you'll need to get a little more uncomfortable.

Once you get more confident, pick a spot on the map and go exploring. This may result in a few frustrating days of little-to-no skiing (slide-alder sufferfests anyone?), but if you're lucky you might just discover the most pristine, untouched pow. Pick who you share it with carefully. If you're lucky. your new adventure buddy will share their secret spot with you too.

Getting your layering program under control is half the battle.  


I wrote an entire blog about layering in the backcountry, but I need to say this again: mastering your personal layering comfort is one of the most difficult aspects of backcountry travel. I cannot tell you how many times I've gone from sweating to freezing in under a minute before kicking myself - again! - for not putting a puffy on right when I stopped.

Dial in your layering program by figuring out which combination of layers works best for you. On your low-key tour days, bring extra "untested" layers to figure out how they work. They could be your new favorite item, or you may want to throw them in the trash as soon as you get to the trailhead. Either way you need to know before you go out with ONLY that puffy for your next trip, so figure it out now. Remember to strip layers before you start climbing, even if it means you'll be cold for a minute, then put on layers as soon as you stop moving. Get a good pack (my recommendation) to give you easy access to your layers and use them. It's worth the extra 60-seconds now to preserve your comfort for the rest of the day.

Someone will always be stronger/faster/better when it comes to skinning/transitioning/skiing.

Accept that you will not be the best person on the mountain. As someone who has been on skis since the age of 3, I am pretty accustomed to being the fastest...at least when it comes to going down. My first time skinning up was a humbling experience to say the least. I had to stop after a mere 400ft of effort to rip off all of my layers and eat a snack. I'd been moving for like 25 minutes. Not my proudest moment.

Slowly teach your body how to navigate different conditions to get faster at skinning. Learn tricks to be more efficient when it comes to transitioning. You may even become a better skier with many, many days in the backcountry (but probably not, seriously go to a resort). When you accept that other people will have lighter and better gear, that they'll be in better shape, and that they'll be better skiers, you'll be much happier. Learn to be slow but not sorry.

Sometimes not getting out at all is better than going with the wrong person.


When you venture into the backcountry with someone, you are trusting them to make good decisions and be responsible for your rescue should something go wrong. Just like rock climbing, your life is in the hands of the competence of this person. Choosing an appropriate partner - both from a personal compatibility and a risk tolerance standpoint - is probably the most important decision you can make.

Decide on a list of your backcountry deal-breakers. Maybe you don't go out with someone who doesn't have an AIARE certification. Or maybe you only go in groups of 5 or fewer. Whatever your rules, draw a line in the sand and don't cross it. We all get outside to enrich our lives, and it's better to stay in and warm your couch than go out with someone who will push you outside of your comfort zone in a bad way. As Ed Viesturs would say, "Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory." Make sure you end every day

09 February 2017

Couloir Hunting in the Kokanee Mountains



In May 2016, I was lucky to be whisked away in my first helicopter to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin deep in the heart of the Kokanee Mountains. There, I spent 7-days with my new best friends exploring the beauty of British Columbia. The weather was HOT but the beers were COLD, and I loved every minute of it.

I enjoyed myself so much I signed up for another hut trip as soon as I could. I'm on that hut trip now, so here's a story from one of the most adventurous days in the Kokanee, as I recorded in my journal that night:


Team "Pucker Factor High"

Today we went couloir hunting, only in the most poorly executed away imaginable. Our team – later dubbed “Team Pucker Factor High” – consisted of me, Anthony, Theresa, and Chris. After a late start due to some tummy issues, we headed off at 8:50am to a series of couliors on a far peak, our destination for the day.

The first section was about 200 feet of skinning to the top of this low pass, then skiing down about 600’ on pure ice through the trees to the basin of the next valley and lake. Then a long, left traverse (left hip is killing me) to get to the basin and scope our lines. By the time we arrived, it was probably already 60-degrees, with a UV index today of 6 (I don’t know what that means exactly, but that’s apparently pretty high). The snow was in sub-optimal “schmoo” stage, but we were committed to our line, and ventured forth.

After the heinous left traverse.

Anthony scoping lines. Ours is the skinny coulior, furthest right. Near center of the tallest peak.


Anthony and I split off for a different objective, and started skinning up this open looking slope adjacent to our couloir. We skinned about 400’ until it came time to boot. I put in the first 100 or so feet of climbing, then Anthony took over, finishing out the last 500’ or so feet to the top. The slope was 50-degrees at its steepest (Anthony has a clinometer) and certainly felt very, very exposed. Reminded me a lot of climbing MixUp Peak with Theresa and Drake a few years ago.

My new view after I "let" Anthony take the lead.

Anthony pulling the crux. I waited in a safe spot until he was at the top.


We got to the top where Anthony had stamped out a tiny spot for himself, and I managed to squeeze in a bit lower. Pressed up against the rock face, I held his gear as he worked to transition, carefully pulling the skins from his skis without going over the back or down into the couloir. After some finagling, he was ready to go, and shoved off. But just before he went we heard a call over the radio, “This is team Balls Deep. Ready to drop.” Which is how, on the fly, Anthony came up with our team name and answered back. We later found out they didn’t hear us, but the team name of "Pucker Factor High" stuck.

Anthony executed about 15 perfect jump turns to get to the choke – a narrow section with hidden (and not so hidden) rock crevasses. Massive amounts of slushy snow came pouring down the couloir with every turn, creating a runnel down the center.

Steep jump turns for the win!


With Anthony gone, I had the luxury of extra room to transition. I made haste, and was ready in under 5 minutes. As I clipped into my skis, careful not to lose one, the pucker factor was certainly high. Just like Anthony before, I made a series of (poorly executed) jump turns, breathing heavy from the effort. I reach the choke, nearly choked, but made it through to Anthony.

We only made a few more turns before calling it in the couloir and moving to the adjacent slope. The runnel had just made our ski down too extremely unpleasant it wasn’t worth it. Plus, we’d already done the steep and skinny part of the couloir, so we had bragging rights.

In the open slope, the skiing was more of the same. Make a ski cut, watch the slush slide, make another ski cut, wait for the slush to move out of the way. Eventually we had a pretty nice path cut for us in the snow to ski in without the schmoo, and took advantage of the “fresh grooming” to the bottom. We snagged a knoll and watched Theresa and Chris descend their line in similar fashion. Ski cut – wait for slide – watch snow pummel over a ridge – make another ski cut.

Theresa, glad to be down.

Chris making the best, last turns before the climb back out.


Today we did not win at skiing, but we did win at 'objective'. The skiing overall was not very enjoyable, and it was just too damn hot in the sun. The final ski out was bad as well, slushy and gross. The worst came at the end, where we had to skin back up the 600’ to get to the pass to come home. But we finally made it and got immediately out of the sun. I’ve never been so happy to get inside and out of the sun. Someone get me a beer!


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02 February 2017

Turns All Year: Month 63

January was a good month to chase turns all year. Deep, light, fluffy pow was abundant early, then cold temps assured our snow would stay light before the rain came mid-January and squashed our powder dreams. The rain slab made for scary conditions in the backcountry for a while, but that's why beer and chairlifts were invented.

I'm stoked to have made 8 trips on my skis last month - 4 of them inbounds and 4 earning my turns. I kicked off 2017 with a bang, with 11" of snow overnight and throughout the day at Bachelor. It was so good we went back the next morning to ski another 5" of fresh for just 2 hours before driving home. I celebrated another great Get The Girls Out ski day with my besties from SheJumps, and made two trips to Hyak for dawn patrol in the same week.

January is also the time I downloaded and fell in love with Gaia GPS. I started tracking my total number of runs, total time moving, total vert, and best of all MAX SPEED! I only hit 49.1mph this month, but I'm looking forward to doing better in the future. If you don't have it on your phone, download it now! Mountaineers members get a free download in fact.

Seems hard to beat. Good thing I'm heading to the Valhalla Lodge in BC for a week in February for good measure.

Here are my favorite shots from Turns All Year Month 63 - January 2017:

Bachelor - January 1


There's a saying, "No friends on a powder day." I think MORE friends on a powder day!

Bachelor - January 2


Photo does not do it justice. Skied amazing, deep treelines for 2.5 hours then spent 10 hours driving home. #worthit

Stevens Pass - January 13


Our plan was to ski at Loup Loup, but we made a detour to Stevens after already driving thru Snoqualmie pass. The sunrise was on point.

Winthrop Area Backcountry - January 14 


This is what losing at bc skiing looks like. Not enough snow on reasonable slopes, so we took our skis for a 2.5hr walk and covered a whopping 400 vertical feet.

Stevens Pass SheJumps Get The Girls Out - January 21


The girafficorns came out to play.
Visibility was amazing.

Stevens Pass Sweat Fest - January 22


After the GTGO day, Rachel and I stayed at The Mounties Stevens Pass Lodge. Then we skinned up to the top of Tye Mill lift for me to just barely get an hour on my skis to count as a day of TAY. #nailedit
Gaping our way back to the car with everything we own on our backs.

Hyak Backcountry Dawn Patrol - January 23


Pele!
My reward view after suffering through a third solo lap.

Hyak Backcountry Dawn Patrol - January 26

When Flat Stanley is visiting, go big or go home!