FOREWORD BY CODY TOWNSEND
Winter is a nuisance. The shoveling. The slippery roads. The frigid bite of air that numbs your toes and stings your nostrils. It’s the season of inconvenience. Yet for a select few, that inconvenient notion is not their reality. For them, winter is the season they’ve been waiting for all year long. That snow that needs to be shoveled, well they know that that just means there is fresh powder in the mountains to be skied. Those slippery roads just keep the crowds indoors away from the outdoor treasures of winter. The know those frosty mornings bestow a unparalleled tranquility outdoors and make the evening fireplace feel like we humans really did steal the god’s most treasured secret. To those that embrace winter, they know how to take those wintery nuisances and turn them into jubilation.
I remember the first time I thought about this dichotomy of winter opinions when I was still in the single digits of age. Watching the local weather, the toupee topped weatherman regaled his TV audience with serious tones and exclamations of “bad weather coming”. “Bad weather?”, I said inquisitively, “Mom, doesn’t he mean ‘good weather’?” My state of mind, already warped by my youthful love of skiing, couldn’t understand why anyone would think a week of storms, snows and fresh powder would be considered crummy weather. I knew before I turned ten years old that most people didn’t see what we skiers, snowboarders and winter lovers saw when it came to weather.
I knew that with a pair of skis, a good jacket and a toasty cap, the nuisances of winter were turned into gifts of good times. That mindset has been tattooed into me ever since. I still walk out on a the first day of snows in my hometown of Tahoe City, CA and marvel how comfortable it is to be in the snowy outdoors in layers of merino wool and Gore-Tex. How far ski technology has progressed from the exorbitantly long and horribly stiff skis of yesteryear to the lightweight, super maneuverable and versatile skis of today. How a good pair of goggles can illuminate the whitest of white-out blizzards and how the hot cocoa still tastes as good as it did when my Mom used to buy it for me. For us winter lovers, we have the inside secrets to taking everyone else’s least favorite season and turning it into best time of the year.
THE FOLLOWING GEAR HAS BEEN REVIEWED BY ALISTER & PAINE
This sport, at its inception, was essentially just some leather boots, two wooden sticks, and wild mountain slopes. These days that is still the essence of it, but the comfort levels have sky-rocketed. The days of frozen toes and shivering fingers aren’t quite gone for good but, with heated wearable technology, we’re getting pretty close. K2’s Spyne 120 heated boots are the ultimate level of comfort and performance, and paired with Outdoor Research Heated Gloves you can ski without taking so many breaks for Snuggly Snowmen up at the Cliff House.
You’ll be the envy of the mountain on the chilliest of days but, as with all battery powered tech, the power doesn’t last forever. For long days we put the setting on the lowest heat mode for longer lasting mild heat. If we’re just hitting the slopes for a few quick runs we’ll crank the heat all the way up and enjoy the warmth all the way back to the parking lot.
Heated gear is just as much about safety as it is comfort. Heated gear not only keeps you warm and comfortable, but also boosts performance by allowing your muscles to be relaxed and more responsive, ultimately reducing the risk of injury.
What you wear affects so much of your performance—comfort level, warmth, agility. You’ve got to stay warm, but be able to really move and get those turns in. Your outwear is going to play a vital role in your comfort level, and determine what type of skiing or riding you’ll be doing and the conditions you’ll face and then gear up for a season of snow-filled adventures.
Arctery’x never disappoints, especially for deep backcountry days and hut trips that take you through all sorts of conditions. The Tauri Jacket is GORE-TEX insulated perfection, designed with specific snowsport adventures in mind. It’s a single layer solution for backcountry descents and rest phases in cold, stormy conditions. This jacket is just at-home at a belay station as it is jumping into a powder cat after a long day skiing the backcountry.
The Descente Insulated Fusion jacket focuses on being incredibly lightweight and insulated, an all-weather ski jacket that is highly waterproof and great for those days when the powder is pounding and you need to keep dry. The Slope Ski Pant we paired it with features X-movement fabric for increased mobility, making this the go-to gear for days you know you’ll be really pushing your limits and need intense flexibility.
Throw on Spyder’s Pinnacle Ski Jacket for breathable stretch with PrimaLoft warmth and RECCO reflector for that level of avalanche protection on backcountry days, along with their Bormio Ski Pant that knocks wind and moisture away and you will be shredding in no time. There’s nothing better than being able to hit the slopes and have them all to yourself, while everyone hides from the wind and elements in the lodge.
Before we cover ourselves with all that Goretex, PrimaLoft, wind resistant waterproof stuff we need to focus on the baselayers. Let’s start at the very beginning. A day on the slopes is not going to be fun if you are soaking wet and freezing. We went nuts for the Airblaster Merino Wool Ninja Suit, a funky high-performance one piece that keeps the cold out and is super soft—all zipping together to eliminate the accidental snow drift that can get up your backside after a tough fall. The hood fits perfectly under a helmet to eliminate the need for a bulky hat, and a 350-degree waist zipper makes it easy to take care of business without having to completely undress (we know you were thinking it).
Helly Hansen is always ahead of the curve, and their men’s HH Lifa Merino collection is no exception. It comes in colorful, stylish colors (nothing overtly cheesy) and is touted as a 2-in-1 baselayer with 100% merino wool that marries with patented stay warm technology for dry, wicking baselayers that add an extra level of protection from the elements.
Thanks to the natural materials, a Falke long-sleeved shirt in comfortable fit with button placket keeps your body at the ideal feel-good temperature while also working to neutralize odors. In the heat, the silk has a cooling effect – in the cold, the merino wool warms you up. The sophisticated material mix is ideal for both cold, rainy days and warm, sunny ones. C’mon, odor resistant? Genius for the ever-stinky men of the pack.
Icebreaker is always a no-brainer go to for super cold days where you need extra breathability. The BodyfitZone collection uses temperature regulating technology, along with soft and odor-resistant merino used to trap heat where it’s needed and release it when working at high intensities. Excellent at drawing away the sweat when working hard and keeping you warm without overheating.
Let’s not forget our toes in all of this. There’s no way to make it up—or down—a mountain if you have frostbitten feet, so don’t skimp here. A snuggly snowman cocktail can only cure so much. Anyone who has ever accidentally worn cotton socks—especially the kind that bunch up in all the wrong places—knows the pain of poor sock choices and the importance of wicking wool.
We’re partial to the Darn Tough all-around men’s merino wool ski socks, a brand that hails from Vermont, land of brutal winters. A brand born out of necessity, they make super comfortable, durable and really well-fitting socks that stand up to the wild and varying conditions the Northeast will throw at you on any given ski day. No bunching, no slipping, just socks doing what socks should do. Falke also makes a great super luxe sock, focusing on cashmere instead of the classic merino wool. These are fantastic for recreational skiers, with medium-strength cushioning for a balanced boot fit and serious thermal insulation. The rapid heat transport and moisture wicking of these socks along with the optimized shape guarantees superior comfort and a stress-free day of resort skiing. When you head into the backcountry throw on a pair of the Adios socks from Stance, a backcountry specific merino wool masterpiece that features graduated compression, and offers ultra-low profile warmth.
OUR FAVORITE SKIS THIS SEASON
Okay, so we’ve got our perfect base layers, jackets, gadgets and toasty toes. Now onto the most important piece of equipment to get turns in for days—the skis! Nothing can slow you down like the wrong equipment, and this year our top picks come from Kastle, DPS and Folsom Custom.
With its precise edge grip and explosive short turns the RX12 SL from Kastle are perfect for pure piste skiers. These beauties are the answer for connoisseurs looking for a powerful and smooth on-piste ski for fresh corduroy and ungroomed terrain, alike. We loved hitting the steep moguls of Stowe’s front four with these RX12 SL’s thanks to their small turning radius which made easy work of the quad-burning bumps.
For something a little ‘floatier’, DPS’s Wailer Ski is our new all-around favorite men’s ski. This Utah-born ski dominated alpine skiing and backcountry runs like an absolute champion. You can ride down pow, crud, and everything in between with the Wailer strapped to your foot, and the ski always feels delightfully lightweight on the skintrack. We’ll be singing the praises of this ski for a long time to come.
SPLURGE: CUSTOM SKIS FROM FOLSOM
Skiing is a very personal sort of sport—everyone skis a little differently. Whether you like to mix it up between backcountry, touring and resort skiing or just like a super aggressive ski that can also handle on powder, it’s not always easy to find exactly what you want in one pair of skis off the rack.
Custom skis can change everything about the way you enjoy the sport. They can take away all the nuisances and quirks that you can’t seem to perfect, no matter how hard you work on your technique. Folsom Skis is a Denver-based ski atelier that takes handcrafted to the next level, creating crazy bespoke skis that are made with every detail of you in mind. It’s a splurge you won’t regret.
In the ski days of yesteryear we all rocked really fun hats with pompoms and tassels, focused only on warmth. These days technology has caught up and you won’t find a helmet-less head at any resort. Wearing a helmet keeps you warm, protects you from any skull injury, and does not need to detract from your on-slope fashion. The Rooster Helmet from Sweet Protection is a slick, handmade helmet created with race-technology and carbon fiber for a super lightweight and strong helmet that keeps you warm and lets you hit the terrain park hard, worry free.
Smith Optics is always a fantastic staple on our gear list each season, and the all-new Quantum MIPS Helmet is no exception. Super lightweight, it’s designed for riders that push the limits of what’s actually “skiable” for a helmet with protection and maximum horsepower. Add in the climate control of Smith’s ventilation system and you’ve got a helmet that not only insulates well through blistering storms, but also breathes like an alpine breeze on warm spring volcano missions. Pair it with Smith’s I/OX goggles that have a clean, rimless design for a tremendous field of vision for superb optical clarity and the best anti-fog technology, even on the most whiteout days. Watch the snowy world pop into focus, just like magic.
Whether you want to be après ready or just make sure your pants aren’t going anywhere, the Arcade adventure belt is the ultimate go anywhere, do anything, always comfortable belt. Stretch comfort, weather-proof and built to move, abuse, and use any way you see fit. A classic belt functioning precisely how a belt should function.
Ski touring, AT skiing, ski mountaineering…whatever you call it, skiing uphill is becoming more and more popular every year. Alpine touring takes you off the beaten ski trails to discover fresh snow and spectacular views. The idea of escaping into nature and away from the crowds—and enjoying untouched snow—sounds fantastic, but where to start? The right gear is crucial to have a blast and get out of the woods in one piece. Here are a few essentials you’ll need to heat out on your first ski tour.
Whether you’re an uphill fiend or deep powder aficionado, the G3 ION award winning bindings are ready to tackle anything you can throw at them. Float up, shred down, bask in the bliss of the backcountry. Another great binding is the Marker Kingpin, an established brand as the go-to solution for backcountry enthusiasts who live a secret life as lift-served skiers but only want to maintain one setup. These guys are ideal for skiers who split their days between the ski area and touring, or those traveling to ski destinations which may or may not require touring capability.
Once the binding is set, go for a touring specific boot like the renowned Technica Zero G Guide Boot. Supremely versatile, with the potential to be a one-boot quiver for skiers who split their ski time between lifts and touring (perfect for the Marker Kingpin fans), this is a boot that won’t slow you down and will let you perform at your very best.
Bindings, boots and skis all set, move on to what you need to pack in and pack out. We’re big fans of the Black Diamond Dawn Patrol for early-morning tours, spring ski-mountaineering missions and in-bounds storm days—it’s a lightweight, go-to pack with form-fitting suspension and zipped backpanels for easy entry. It’s also compatible with the AvaLung Element for added avalanche preparedness.
The Gregory Targhee 32 is more of a burly pack for overnights, with plenty of space and features needed for a serious adventure. It comes with Fusion Flex suspension and a compact shape for exceptional skiing and riding performance. A dedicated rescue and tool compartment puts avalanche equipment close to hand (although here’s hoping you never need it). An insulated hose cover for your hydration pack is a great way to ensure your water supply will never freeze on you.
Avalanche safety is perhaps the most important element of backcountry and touring escapades. The baselayers, socks, waterproof jackets, shiny goggles and helmets…all important stuff.
But without proper avalanche training and gear, it’s useless. This gear will help protect and provide the ultimate adventure while staying safe and making good choices out there in the unforgiving mountains.
The Mammut Removable Airbag System inflates in three seconds flat when deployed in the event of an avalanche, has an easy release trigger and provides visibility for rescue scenarios.
Pair it with the Mammut Alugator Pro T Shovel, a classic winter tool for digging test pits for snow-pack analysis and to excavate other skiers in the event of an avalanche. We like the Mammut Alugator because it offers tilt-resistant stability and strength when you need it the most and stows away easily when you don’t.
Beacons are a must for anyone heading into the backcountry. They will not guarantee your safety, but having a beacon and knowing how to use it can increase your odds of survival drastically in the event of an avalanche. The Pieps DPS Sport is simplified and streamlined, yet outfitted with all the features needed for fast, accurate searches. It’s a more compact and lighter-weight version of the long-trusted predecessor and is trusted by Search + Rescue teams and professional skiers around the world.
A probe is the last essential. It’s used in an avalanche rescue scenario to probe the snowpack for buried skiers once you locate their general position with an avalanche beacon, enabling you to zero in with accuracy that a beacon can’t provide. This leads to a faster recovery which can save lives. The Mammut Carbon Probe 240 is light, bend-resistant and compact. You’ll hardly even feel it’s weight on your pack, unless you need it.
We are not going to sugarcoat it: skiing in the backcountry is dangerous. It’s your responsibility to make sure you–and your ski partners–know how to use this gear in the event of an emergency. If you’re thinking of heading out for the first time we strongly recommend linking up with a Ski Guide to show you the ropes or taking an avalanche safety course from the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.
Whatever your pleasure this season—whether it’s an overnight alpine touring hut adventure or grabbing some gorgeous groomers out West—gear up and get out there!