Bansko is having a pretty shitty start to the season this year, poor snow conditions and mild temps mean that there are only a few pistes open and those only because of man made snow. So this is the ideal moment to talk about toys!
This year I will finally be going into the back country with the correct kit. I’ve been free riding, ski mountaineering or back country skiing for most of the last 18 years and to be honest I’ve been a bit of a prat about it. For many years I have been relying more on chat than knowledge, luck than judgement and a 6th sense for danger rather than snow pack analysis. In the last 10 years I have been learning more and more about how the snow pack evolves and how it responds to various climactic changes and what is now at the fore front of my mind is how little I really know. Fortunately I have survived all the little lessons the mountain has given me and I’m also rich enough to be able to buy the right equipment. So what is the right gear! Below is a list of what I use and also some dream items if budget is no issue.
ABS-AIRBAG , this system is praised and dammed in equal measure, ABS claim a 97% survival rate for people taken in avalanches using their system, the worst analysis I have seen on the internet suggests a 47% survival rate. Either way this little backpack looks like it will increase your chances of survival in an avalanche by more than 50%. A total no brainer. The base unit is lightweight and has enough space for shovel, probe, medical kit, spare gloves, spare hat and lunch. You will need to buy a supplementary pack that zips on the outside if you are planning anything more than lift assisted skiing into the side country. I know of one friend who has deployed his and he believes it saved his life.
Avalanche Transceiver , a proven life saver for many many years, no need for details here. Anyone who goes off piste should have one of these. The device emits a signal while attached to the skier. The device also has the ability to locate signals emitted by other devices at the flick of a switch. You must practice using these as it is not easy but with practice the “PEEPS” as they are sometimes called are the second best life savers, available. I’ll come to the best life saver later on. The BCA tracker 2 that I have is a tried and tested device offering some of the best value for money on the market. If money is no issue and santa is feeling generous the Pulse Barryvox is the best money can buy.
Shovel and Probe I bought a pretty basic set up from K2 which can with a free back pack, I use the back pack for cycling in the summer as it is super slim and light. There is a huge spectrum of qualities and prices available on the market but as long as you are not buying something totally mickey mouse most of them are acceptable. you are looking for something STRONG and LIGHT. In use you are going to be shifting up to a ton of snow so spend the extra quid and get something decent.
Boots The amount of crap talked about boots is really pissing me off at the moment. Sadly most of it is totally correct, yes if you are a pro skier every millimetre matters. I recently spent 1/2 a day in Snow and Rock in Exeter getting some new boots for the old man. (they have an amazing deal on at the moment!) Now the old man started skiing in leather boots when Mammoths were still roaming the westcountry and has never owned his own boots. I on the other hand just ring up Salamon and order boots from the catalogue . So you must pity the poor bastard in snow and rock who was sticking to the training manual. Yes I am sure he is right but at the end of the day I am not Alberto Tomba, I want more space than normal, the old man likes his boots loose, some people want their boots to hurt. Just remember, don’t listen too much to the guy in the shop and buy what feels right!
I ride in Salamon Quest 110’s simply put they are awesome, lightweight, stiff for the downhill, flexible and grippy for climbing and they look cool!
Jacket and trousers There is only one brand for me when it comes to the last layer between me and the elements, and that is Arc’teryx, indestructible ( I have been trying and failing for years to trash my trousers), comfortable, waterproof when they need to be breathable when they need to be, warm, fashionable…. what more do you need. Perfect mountain clothing. Thank you Arc’teryx for 10 happy years.
Silky underwear I grew up in the countryside and I love sheep but not until I discovered Icebreaker did I realise quite how much I love sheep! Every bit of hype you read on their website is true. I’ve just just come back from the Himalaya where for 3 weeks 24/7 I wore my Icebreaker thermals sweating up hills, sleeping in scanky huts you name it they didn’t come off and at the end they didn’t smell, I wasn’t covered in sores, they didn’t rub, chaff or get crusty!
Skis, bindings and Skins This is a slightly silly topic as it is so personal, and really depends on what you like and what you can afford. I have two basic sets of skis one are the mighty K2 Ob’sethed a truly mental pair of powder munching, sick ass bad boys that turn any normal skier into GOD! What they do to me is beyond the realm of modern science! This winter I have swapped my old Rossignol bindings onto these as they are way too heavy for touring and I moved the pair of Marker Baron touring Bindings that used to be on them onto my old Rossignol B3’s . These legendary all mountain skis have done me proud for many years and have now been “relegated” into my touring catagory. Not a bad place to spend their retirement, they work for everything from rock hard crud to powder a true all mountain ski!
Gloves One word. Hestra. Every other pair of gloves on the market is dog poo by comparison. I have been using a variation of the Classic Czone for the last 18 years, I have replaced them once. This is the only pair of gloves you will ever need. If you are a girl these ones if you are a snowboarder these ones. End of.
The best kit money can buy? Experience, training and caution have saved more lives than any piece of hardware. Be prepared to retreat if conditions do not look favourable and never forget you are in the mountains to have fun so take as few risks as poss!