Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ski Mountaineering Gear List, 2016-2017 Season

Ski mountaineering is basically anything that isn't simple "backcountry skiing". And backcountry skiing is skinning up and skiing back down, to your car. Navigate a glacier, camp out, rappel a chockstone, protect a pitch of rock or ice climbing, and your endeavor enters the realm of ski mountaineering. The racer types talk about "ski mo". That's short for "ski mountaineering", but the lycra-clad, groomer-ascending typical races don't really seem all that similar to any sort of mountaineering I know of. It occurred to me recently that "ski mo" could also be short for "ski more". Which makes a ton of sense, and fits into the above catch-all. Going for distance or time isn't your typical backcountry skiing event. As such, it fits here. In the end, this is the page where I list the specialized ski gear I might carry for specialized missions. Whether it's a speed lap on Taylor Mountain, or a sea to summit burn on Mount Saint Elias, the list below will cover it. No joke.

I've gotten in the habit of updating this every year. This is the latest, as of October 2016.

Ski mo, don't ski less. Dropping into 11,000 vertical feet of powder on Alaska's Mount Sanford. Interestingly, the gear I used there has more in common with that used on a speedy roadside mission than it does with a typical day of "normal" backcountry skiing. 

Ski Gear.  Keep it small, light and simple.  Use skill to negotiate funky snow and terrain:
  • Dynafit TLT 6P boots
  • Dynafit PDG skis (or something a little bigger. From the OutdoorGearLab test roster)
  • Contour mohair race skins 
  • Dynafit race bindings 
  • Fixed length poles. Equipped with a sweet "Pole Clinometer" 
Clothes.  Most carry and wear too much.  Keep it simple, move fast, carry an awesome puffy jacket or two. I get very cold. Colder than most. And this clothing kit is all I need to 18,000 feet in Alaska. No joke. 
  • Darn Tough Socks
  • Crazy Idea Century pants
  • Syn boxers.
  • Syn/wool t-shirt. 
  • Light fleece hoody. Like Patagonia's R1. 
  • Camp Neutrino Hoody
  • Camp Magic Jacket. Or hardshell jacket for wetter endeavors.
  • Camp Magic Pants. Or beefy hardshell bibs for coastal AK missions. 
  • Feathered Friends Eos Hooded jacket. Or the Volant jacket for the high and wild. 
  • Camp G Comp Warm Gloves. Plus Camp Hot Mitt'ns for colder trips.
  • Warm hat
  • Buff
  • Sun hat
  • Kaenon Burnet Sunglasses

Safety Gear, etc:
  • Backcountry Access Tracker 3 Transceiver, BCA B1 shovel, BCA Carbon Probe.
  • Communication
    • Almost always have a set of BC Link Radios for comms within the group. 
    • And then, in terms of talking to the outside world, sometimes as simple as a cell phone,  occasionally (mainly in Canada) a 2-meter, 2-way radio, and most often my Iridium GO Smartphone modem.  Adventure is awesome, thriftiness is noble, but failure to consider communication with the outside world is ridiculous.
  • Navigation- 80% of the time the phone, preloaded with maps and apps, is enough.  Carry a "back-up" paper map and analog compass.  In big, new-to-me, complicated terrain where visibility is likely to shut down, I'll bring the full kit:  Dedicated GPS (Suunto Ambit 2), large-scale waterproofed paper map ( is brilliant), compass, altimeter, clinometer.  
  • Emergency Shelter- Very occasionally it is as simple as the mylar (space blanket style) bivy bag that lives in my omnipresent First Aid/Emergency kit.  Usually though, I bring the 8.5'x8.5' 9 oz Hyperlight Mountain Gear Cuben Tarp.  
  • Emergency Evacuation- Sometimes it's as simple as the bivy or tarp.  Drag someone on that.  In many cases, I'll carry the Brooks Range Eskimo Sled.  I also have a little bag of bolts and drill bits that can be used to bolt skis, shovel, and ski poles together into a sort of sled. If you are not already packing a rope, carry a chunk of cord for dragging a packaged casualty.
  • First/emergency aid kit.
  • Ski repair kit.  (it should be around a pound for groups.  Less is probably inadequate.  More is silly.  Let me know if you want more detail on what I carry)
  • Snow Study:  Saw, crystal card, magnifier, ruler, documentation.  Be equipped and trained to make sound decisions for yourself and large column tests for the avalanche center.
  • Food, water. Whatever's clever.  
  • Headlamp
  • Sunscreen, TP, hand sanitizer, lighter. 
  • If I need a rope while skiing it's almost never less than a 30m Petzl Rad rope.  If I need a rope while skiing it's almost never more than a 60m half rope.  
  • Spikes.  As it gets steeper and firmer, add in this order: 
  • Also as needed:
    • Camp Speed 2.0 Helmet
    • CAMP Alp Mountain harness
    • Rack of gear.  If it requires more than 5 of anything (cams, nuts, screws, slings) leave the skis behind.  
  • Glaciers?  Crevasse rescue skills and equipment.  
  • Pack:  Maybe the BCA balloon pack, maybe an alpine pack (Camp M3), maybe the little CAMP Rapid race pack.  
Multi Day Ski Touring
This is what we live for.  Getting way out there, going out of contact.  Seeing what few get to see.  Most of the gear is the same as for day trips.  But you'll add in camping gear.  And eliminate some things.  You won't need emergency shelter if you have a dedicated tent, for instance.  
Living the good life in British Columbia's Coast Range.  April 2013.

  • Shelter.  I pick from three, in increasing weight and weather protection:  Black Diamond Betalight, Black Diamond Firstlight, and Hilleberg Nallo 2.  
  • Feathered Friends Widgeon -10 sleeping bag.
  • Thermarest NeoAir XTherm.
  • MSR Reactor with 2 oz per person per day of fuel
  • Lighter and matches.
  • Bigger Pack.  Hyperlight Mountain Gear 4400 Ice Pack
  • Food.  Just add water for dinner and breakfast.  A mess of bars and energy candy and jerky and cheese for lunches.  It should all add up to about 2 pounds per person per day.  Depending on individual metabolism and work load. You'll need some way to serve and eat this food. Lightest is to just use the first night's freeze dried bag. And a spoon. 
  • Toiletries. Toothpaste and brush, eye care, sunscreen, personal medications.
  • Water bottles.  2 gatorade bottles.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

Backcountry Skiing Gear List, 2016-2017

I do this each season. In planning out my equipment before the season ramps up, I am doing a sort of risk management. Thinking through the equipment now leaves me free to better monitor conditions and choose terrain wisely. To be honest, much of my professional life is built around freeing up mental energy for making wise terrain choices. It is that important. I have similar lists for rock climbing, alpine climbing, and ski mountaineering.

Season opener. Grand Targhee BC, Wyoming. Yours truly. Selfie. 10/2016

Here and now we're talking about your typical day out skiing.  6-8 hours at most, a group of 2-7 people, hunting down good snow and good terrain with minimal "faffing" around.  Don't think too much about it; this is standard skiing.  See the other posts noting what I carry for more "specialized" missions.  

  • Darn Tough ski socks
  • Maybe, just maybe, long underwear
  • Arc Teryx Sawatch pants 
  • CAMP Magic pants (in the pack).
  • Synthetic boxers
  • Synthetic/wool t-shirt
  • Patagonia R1 Hoody
  • Camp Magic Jacket
  • Camp Neutrino Jacket
  • Arc Teryx Macai Jacket
  • Camp G Comp Warm gloves
  • Camp Hot Mittens
  • Warm stylie wool hat
  • Buff
  • Sun hat
  • Smith Vantage helmet (sometimes…)
  • Sunglasses.  Native Hardtop, Julbo Explorer, or Kaenon Burnet, depending.  Maybe, just maybe, goggles. Of the 60-80 days a year I ski in the backcountry, I probably carry goggles 10 times on average.  And use them for one run before I remember how annoying it is.  
Ski Gear:
  • Dynafit TLT6 boots
  • Any one of a number of OutdoorGearLab tester skis. 
  • And associated skins
  • Dynafit Speed Turn bindings
  • Black Diamond Fixed Carbon poles (mounted with a sweet Pole Clinometer)
Safety Gear, etc.  Some of this is individual and needed by each group member. Other gear can be shared by the group.  Divided well, even this comprehensive list of emergency group gear will go barely noticed in the pack:

Some gear failure is repairable.  Some is not.  
  • First Aid/Emergency kit.  
  • Ski repair kit.  (it should be around a pound for groups.  Less is probably inadequate.  More is silly.  Let me know if you want more detail on what I carry)
  • Brooks Range Ultralight Guide Tarp 
  • Brooks Range Eskimo Sled. Or my improvised bolt-based kit. Depending on the objective.
  • 18m of thin sled dragging rope
  • 2 locking carabiners
  • Navigation kit:  GPS, maps, compass, clinometer, altimeter.  Often the iPhone versions are enough.  Sometimes bringing the dedicated tools is justified.
  • Snow Study:  Saw, crystal card, magnifier, ruler, documentation.  Be equipped and trained to make sound decisions for yourself and large column tests for the avalanche center.
  • Extra clothes:  An extra puffy jacket and pair of over mitts are regularly appreciated.  Especially in a large group. 
  • Set of BCA BC Link radios, for intra-group communication. I was skeptical. But I'm a solid convert now. Even close together, radio communication is clean and simple. Have back-up plan and procedures in place, but use the radios too.
  • Iridium Extreme Sat Phone.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Three Things Thursday. Issue #19

The entire Perumal family. City of Rocks. September 30, 2016
  • The growing Perumal family pictured above climbs more pitches with a baby in tow than your average simple climbing partnership. How do they do it? With creaky joints and a recent baby delivery, respectively, it can't necessarily be credited to incredible physical fitness (though they're no slouches in that department, and I mean no disparagement...). They also make sure to apply modern, conservative safety systems. So their accomplishments aren't due to reckless boldness. No, it's quite simply a combination of three basic principles: 
    • First, they have professional-level training. They've each taken a number of formal climbing courses, over years now. 
    • Next, they climb together a lot. They share a common vocabulary (born of their respective formalized training) and common goals and objectives for the day and for their climbing careers. 
    • Finally, they are together and individually motivated. They each climb for their own reasons, but they have that burning desire. They like climbing individually, and they like climbing together. It's not rocket science, but these three principles are remarkably lacking, and people's performance suffers. 

Cube Point, Grand Teton National Park. October 4, 2016
  • Shifting to the alpine... It's supposed to be rock climbing season. But I have quite the fascination with alpine climbing. I'm not tough, I'm not strong, I'm just fascinated. I get cold, I get scared, but I dig it. Speaking of getting cold, my feet are a wreck. When others are in flip flops, I feel like I should be in insulated boots. In lots of "three season" alpine climbing conditions many people get away with uninsulated mountaineering boots. Shoes like the Garmont Tower LX GTX are the most popular category of mountaineering boots on the market. They walk well, they rock climb well, and they take crampons for snow and basic ice climbing. Catch is, they're uninsulated. The next step up, in most manufacturers' boot lines, are insulated, but rigid, ice climbing boots. These can be pressed into duty for colder three season use, but they aren't ideal. Thankfully, my business partner Garmont makes just the ticket for those of us with cold feet. The Tower Extreme is basically an insulated version of your typical three season mountaineering boot. The rubber is sticky, the toe is low profile, and the sole is flexible for walking. I just guided a very autumnal (read, "snowy") ascent of Grand Teton National Park's Cube Point in the Tower Extreme. My feet stayed largely warm, and surely dry. In lighter boots, I would have been uncomfortably cold. 
Targhee. October 5, 2016.
  • Rock, alpine, let's wrap with something skiing related. I skied this morning! Earliest start to a ski season ever for me. And it was very good skiing!  As you look ahead to the ski season, its time to look ahead to whatever's next in your avalanche education. And what is next for you (and something should be next... we all can always keep learning) is likely informed by a bit of a "sea change" in the business. Partner Backcountry Access has published a summary of the coming change. It's a good change, and IFMGA Mountain Guide Rob Coppolillo spells it out very well. Here. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Three Things Thursday. Issue #18

Topping out the Exum Ridge's "Golden Staircase" pitch just before sunrise. August 16, 2016. 

  • First, a follow up to my last, curmudgeonly blog post. I'm doing ok. I'm doing more than ok. Thorough acceptance of certain ugly truths is the ultimate in catharsis. Mountains are dangerous and hard. That is all. I'm not quitting, I'm not "toning it back". I am sharpening and tempering and examining, but the danger and difficulty is an inherent part of the draw. It isn't noble to be drawn to dangerous things, but it is ultimately human. And humanity isn't all noble. In talking with others about the thoughts I shared, and in examining my own motives and responses, it seems that there are two polarized viewpoints; some go to the mountains despite the dangers and work to minimize their exposure to said hazards, while others go to the mountains because of the dangers and work to minimize their exposure to said hazards. Notably, the end result is exactly the same. Because you may see my fascination with the risks as morbid doesn't mean that my approach is any less diligent than yours. As long as we are both letting our perspective sharpen our attention, the product is the same. 
  • Next, let's climb this fall! I'm mapping out my autumn and early winter. I will travel a great deal, and book up the remainder of 2016 in the next few weeks. With ever decreasing availability, this is a rough outline of the options for climbing with me (as always, bookings are made through a patchwork of partners, depending on timing and permits):
    • Bugaboos, BC. September 11-16 or so. 
    • Teton Day Tripping, WY. September 12-30.
    • Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO. First two weeks of October. 
    • Boulder, CO. October.
    • Red Rock, Vegas. October 19-23 and/or November 2-6.
    • Moab Area. Indian Creek, Castleton Tower, Etc. Mid October to early November. 
    • El Potrero Chico, Mexico. November or December
    • Silverton Ice. December.
    • Banff Ice. December
  • Lastly, this is throwing back to earlier in July. I was part of a bunch of Exum groups to summit the Grand Teton all together. In one of the Exum groups a marriage proposal was imminent. Most of us knew it was coming, warned by the soon to be fiance. The fiancee did not know it was coming. Anyway, this is how it unfolded