Doing long canyon tours in the Bitterroots is one of my backcountry ski passions, but the long slog into the canyons and the small hills on the way out have always demanded elevated commitment, fitness and energy. With the new Voile BC Vectors, the efficiency on the tour in and out of the canyons is phenomenal.I have given them the full work out by touring 7 miles in Blodgett Canyon without skins, ascending 1,600' vertical. I was able to easily outpace my usually faster skinning partner, who pushed as fast as he could to keep me in view. At the bottom of the skin trail, I skin up with fine results. The idea is not new; however, until now not perfected: pair a good set of backcountry skis with classic ski scales underfoot to make the ultimate long touring weapon. Voile USA makes these skis in two models the skinnier 121-96-110 (180cms) Vectors and the beafier powder cousin the Charger. The Vector had received good reviews from a number of my friends as great multi purpose skis only lacking when the powder was really deep. But I knew noone with the BC scaled version. I picked up a pair last spring with the coolest Blue Forest motif and a bear on the tail. I used them a couple times for touring around Downing Mountain Lodge and to Canyon Peak before the big Blodgett ski tour and thought that they were going to be the ticket.
On the downhill, their performance is good. The scales do slow you down a wee bit, allowing straighter lines, but without any breaking feeling in the quads. I imagine that the scales will break up water surface tension in wet spring snow as well. The only time they are too slow is when skiing 15 degree powder slopes, other than that I barely notice the scales on descent. Tuning and waxing is a bit tricky. No wax on the scales and filling nicks and scratches is a little bit more time consuming. The tip is well matched for skin clips both BD and G3 styles. The tail lacks a fixture and therefore tail clips become loose on occasion needing management, my only real gripe.
Now the canyons all appear much more inviting as I can kick and glide into them and climb effortlessly all the hills on the way out. No more hanging on poles at the end of the day to suffer a fifty foot hill, just more effortless kick and glide. At long last the Bitterroot Canyons are matched by a ski tool that allows efficient and easy transport deep into the Wilderness skiing. I imagine as folks become believers, we will see increased day traffic in what was once considered overnight terrain for the stouter, masochistic types.
Noteworthy is that the skis are both inexpensive, sturdy, and made in Salt Lake City by a small team of devout experts. Voile's other skis and split boards all have a following from the original Fat Drifter to the nouveau V8, to the Artisan, I have become a real proponent of their product line and style.
Gear: ColdAvenger - Face mask
The facemask is known as the ColdAvenger and has a patented ventilator built in for extreme cold conditions. The line of masks and balaclavas just came out in white for snow hunters. The mask system was developed by John B. Sullivan III, CEO of ColdAvenger, who was sick of the standard face mask fogging up his goggles and getting wet from breathing. So he invented something better.
“The idea came to me when I was out in a sub-zero morning,” Sullivan said. “I had all the top-of-the-line gear you could buy, and the best equipment for my face was basically a piece of fleece.”
Sullivan noticed all the other outdoor gear had a ton of technology and quality materials, all except what was available to cover your face in the cold.
“Even if you have all the best equipment, if your face is covered and uncomfortable because it is wet, you will be miserable, and your experience outdoors is ruined.”
After he sparked that idea, he spent the next three years developing a mask with a ventilator built into it. The ventilator might look strange at first glance, but if you are about function over fashion, there are some great benefits to looking like Darth Vader. The ventilator allows 100 percent natural free breathing while passively warming and humidifying incoming air. It also prevents the fogging of goggles and removes excess moisture away from the facial skin.
“Some of the coldest days I can remember are either sitting in my deer tree stand, or in the goose blind in December,” Sullivan said. “You are exposed in either instance and it gets really, really cold.”
In addition to the mask, ColdAvenger added a full balaclava for extra warmth. The ventilator mask fits snugly over the balaclava and can easily be removed if you need to take a quick drink of coffee or make a duck call while hunting. The rest of your head will still be protected.
But the product isn’t just limited to hunters; it is used by anyone spending time out in the cold. From someone out shoveling snow to extreme athletes on Arctic expeditions. It is also great for skiers and snowboarders, or running in the cold.
The product is available at Bob Wards, REI or online at www.coldavenger.com
I was pretty stoked to learn my significant other won a Contour helmet cam when the last Matchstick ski movie rolled through Missoula. I’d never heard of Contour, but a helmet cam is a helmet cam, right?
Eh, maybe not.
The ContourROAM is a tube-looking device with full HD video and eight hours of recording time at 1080p with a 32 gig micro SD card. The cards are relatively cheap to buy. It’s got a 170-degree wide angle lens with auto adjust for white balance and exposure. It has an aluminum body weighing almost nothing. But here’s what’s up.
These are the PROS of the ContourROAM.
-->The Contour’s on/off switch is a big slider on the top, very easy to do with big, bulky ski gloves on, unlike the GoPro, which can be a little challenging to push the button in and figure out if it’s working. Is the red light on? It’s obvious to tell when the Contour is recording because it has this really loud and obnoxious beep at the beginning and the end when you power down.
-->The Contour definitely has a sleeker profile over the GoPro. It’s tubular body doesn’t stick out quite as much as the little box that everyone runs around with on top of their heads.
-->If you push a button on the back, you can see a laser where the camera is pointing, so you know it’s recording what you want. Also, the camera lens rotates a full 180 degrees, so you can make sure your shot is always level. That’s a definite plus.
-->The thing is waterproof up to a meter under water, and the aluminum shell makes it tough for sure.
And all of this is fine and dandy, of course, until you get to the cons.
These are the CONS of the ContourROAM.
-->Oh hey, none of that stuff up there matters when you CAN’T TURN IT ON. Especially when you most need it. I kept the camera in the house, and then in the warm car, and then into my deepest coat pocket. I exposed it to air for maybe 15 seconds up at Discovery Ski Area, it turned on, beeped once, and promptly turned back off. Fully charged. So, did it freeze? What’s the deal? I plugged it into Disco’s office computer and left it for six hours. It never turned back on. Twenty-four hours later, after it took all my self control not to chuck off the side of the mountain (this was Glen Plake’s advice), it miraculously rallied. So, if reliability is something you want, maybe Contour is something you don’t. To be fair, I’ve heard of GoPro’s freezing, too.
--> Image stability on this camera is a big problem for me. Several times I’ve been out skiing around, gotten home excited to see what I captured for the day, and found I wasn’t able to sit through the footage without feeling nauseous almost instantly. The camera is so shaky. I had it mounted to the side of my helmet, so maybe I just have a really bouncy head? I dunno. GoPro definitely has Contour beat there. It’s a steadier image that’s actually pleasing to watch.
--> The Contour’s footage is very loud, and not in the way of sound, but in the way of noise on the picture. Even the blue sky is sort of fizzy, if that makes sense. The picture is not as crisp as the GoPro.
--> Once it’s on, it’s on. The Contour slides onto a track mount, so you mount the other side of the tracking onto your helmet with an adhesive. Unless you have A MILLION of these little adhesive mounts (which aren’t that cheap), you’re the only one getting footage. This definitely discourages creative angles. And if you mount it wrong, too bad. You’ll just have to get another one. No chest mount option here, either, unless you go DYI on its ass.
So there you have it. Lots of people have chucked their GoPros off sides of mountains all over the world and switched to Contour and love it. This is just my experience, which has been less than favorable.
Enjoy this short example of some ContourROAM footage.
I have been skiing in the same boots since I was in middle school. They aren't even good boots; they're the boots we leased every year and eventually ended up buying from a ski shop down in Boise, Idaho. By the end of last season, even forcing my foot into them became a major hassle. I'd make a scene just trying to buckle them, knees on the ground, body contorted to pull the buckles down, red in the face, white in the knuckles, and cursing under my breath. The thought of unbuckling them to enjoy lunch? I wouldn't dare.
So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I learned my Christmas gifts included a brand new pair of ski boots.
After making the rounds at two popular ski shops in Boise (where I'm from), and having my foot shoved into a dozen different boots, I finally found my match: this year's Tecnica Cochise for women.
It has a flex rating of 90, but the boot salesman told me it works for brand newbies just as well as for the pros. These pretty, white boots have a "walk" option as well, but walking around the lodge, I didn't feel much of a difference.
These boots changed my life. My skiing life, anyway. I do believe skiing is one of those sports where equipment can make all the difference in the world. Put a good skier on good equipment and you get this girl: fearless and with a sense of newfound confidence. The boots are wonderfully receptive to whatever I want to do. I can feel the complete roundness of my turns so much better. I can hop through the powder with ease. They're pretty lightweight! The fur lining makes for a nice perk, too.
The boots only have three buckles, but a big strap of velcro across the top definitely holds me in place. I did have ankle lifts inserted into the boots because my heels wanted to rise up and move around too much otherwise.
Two days of skiing in these boots back to back, though, did bring a whole new meaning to the word "sore." The boots force me into a more aggressive skiing position, pulling my knees into a good bend and making every run a thigh-burner. By lunchtime on the second day, I felt pretty constricted half way up my calves. On the other hand, I skied the best I ever have...ever.
Finding the balance between comfort and performance will always be a challenge, but I think the Tecnica Cochise comes pretty close. The boot fell middle-of-the-range in pricing, about $400. But ladies, it was worth every penny. Shred on!
Gear: Casio F108WHC Illuminator wristwatch sans straps
On my mountaineering trips, the following seems to take place every time: We get up at four, eat breakfast, and are underway by five. We throw on our rock shoes just as the sun crests the mountains east of us. Both of us feel fine without a rope at that point. Sometime later, that changes and we rope up. Alternating leads, we knock off pitches of moderate fifth class. When we hit fourth class, we again move unroped. A Grade III in the mountains, particularly with no leads harder than 5.8, has a lot of pitches. Sometime in the afternoon, we decide to check what time it is. From experience, we know it could be anytime from two to five. After a bit of a search, I find my watch and retrieve it from the bowels of my pack. It’s three. We’re going to get back to camp before dark. But, I want to have fun, so I put on the most disheartened look I can.
“What time is it?”
“It’s three, we’re good.” I say, breaking into a smile.
At least for skiing, climbing, and mushing, wristwatches either don’t work at all (climbing) or are a pain in the butt (skiing and mushing). The obvious answer is a pocket watch. So far, I haven’t found one I like.
The sport I partake in most regularly, mushing, has me wearing various layers of clothing that make checking a wristwatch rather onerous. Over several years, I’ve tried a number of alternatives. At first, digital travel clocks seemed ideal. They were a perfect size to fit into a parka’s pocket and they had nice loud alarms, something I wanted for distance racing. The problem they had was that at some point, jarring dislodged the AA or AAA battery that they ran on, and I lost the time. I looked online, but what few pocket watches I saw mimicked what I’d expect a 19th century British gentleman to have rather than something for a 21st century outdoorsman. I even tried a stopwatch. This had all the functionality I wanted, except the combination of easy action buttons and a jarring ride in my pocket meant that by the time I pulled it out, it was in never never land and the time of day remained a mystery.
What I finally settled on was buying one of the Casio $15 specials (F108WHC Illuminator) and cutting off the straps. With the straps gone, it lays flat in my parka’s or pants’ pockets. It has all the functionality I want, though the alarm is a hair weak and I’d rather have a slightly bigger display---actually a slightly bigger watch overall. It has disappeared a couple of times while on my counter. But, knock on watch, it seems to be shock proof. It’s a little bit of a compromise, but it does work. And, at $15, I’m not going to complain. I’d add that the button system is more functional for an outdoorsman than its predecessors---the button doing the light no longer does anything else when the watch is in a normal display mode.
To date, I’ve used this baby skiing and mushing and, the minor issues aside, have been delighted with it. And hopefully, I’ll do a couple of climbs with it this summer and maybe, just maybe, I’ll know what time it is throughout the day.
I started running barefoot style about 3 years ago, when the book, Born to Run, was convincing folks of its merit and my osteopath was trying to help me figure out why my foot hated me so much after running more than 10 miles. I promptly got myself a pair of Vibram Five Fingers-KSOs and loved them to death.
Yet, last fall I was faced with the conundrum of what to do in the winter. I wanted to try to keep running, but my little KSOs were anything but warm and provided me with very little traction. So, I tried a different style of Five Fingers, which to my dismay, did not work. The traction was great, but the pads on the bottom that provided the traction put pressure on the ball of my foot—so much that my toes went numb. And they were warmer, but not toasty. I like toasty.
So, with the help of the awesome folks at Runner’s Edge, I found the Altra Zero Drop, Lone Peak shoes. These little shoes were developed by a couple of guys with barefoot running in mind—but they look more like a retro sneaker. They have no heel rise or funky padding. They are certainly minimalist shoes. What I love about them is that they give your toes ROOM. They are wider in the toe than your traditional running shoe, so your toes are allowed to spread out and fill their roles, effectively.
The shoe is also incredibly lightweight, so it feels like you are wearing nothing on your feet—but you have the protection from rocks that you need when trail running. (I actually broke my pinky toe wearing my Five Fingers on a hike up Trapper Peak a couple of years ago. I’ve never forgotten how that little toe stuck out perpendicular to the rest—and so, I get nervous in rocky terrain).
Needless to say, these shoes find their way to my feet quite often and they definitely keep my them more snug in the colder seasons—with enough traction. I still love my Five Fingers, but the Altras provide a good balance and protection when I need it. Happy feet. More miles.
Trail running demands a certain level of awareness and focus that you just don’t encounter when you’re on the roads. It’s nice, therefore, when you can worry about rocks on the trail, that big climb coming up and whether you’re being watched by a mountain lion – and not have to worry about your shoes.
That’s why I’ve been so pleased with Montrail’s (women’s) Mountain Masochist II. The shoe’s reliability and durability is the reason it’s my go-to tread. The amount of caked mud and dust on my current pair is evidence of the miles the Masochist has seen me through. Rainy miles, snowy miles, icy miles, muddy miles, perfect miles and worn-out, dead-beat miles: this shoe has been with me through quite a bit.
Yet, through all of that, I’ve never had to worry about my shoes. After I’ve been running for 90 minutes, I’m definitely thankful for the Masochist’s relative lightness (9.2 oz) for a durable trail shoe. They provide just the right amount of support, with a 10 millimeter forefoot and a 20 millimeter heel and a little bit of pronation control. They manage to be snug throughout the mid foot without any pinching. (It kind of feels like my feet are getting a nice hug). The front, however, is incredibly roomy. Somehow, there is plenty of space for my toes to spread naturally and give my footing stability without any slipping or sliding. That’s exactly what I need when I’m trail running and I’m up on my toes a little more.
There’s a great shield that wraps around the toe box, too. For someone who often doesn’t pick his or her feet up enough to avoid stumbling over rocks (ahem), the pleathery material covering the tip of the shoe is a real nail-saver. That, combined with a more rigid sole, gives your foot the protection it needs from sharp rocks and other debris you encounter on the trails. There’s great traction, too – angled blades on the forefoot help you grip the dirt when you’re slogging uphill.
In the winter, when trail conditions are a bit more slippery, I throw on a pair of SnowTrax (like YakTrax but cheap) and am good to go. If I wanted to, I could insert some screws in the soles of my Masochists, but doing so would shorten the life of my favorite pair of shoes. Anyway, the SnowTrax fit perfectly into an interesting notch at the heel that I swear was put there expressly for that purpose.
It’s hard to find something to complain about. They’re a little expensive for a poor college student, but for a high-performance shoe, the Masochist is actually priced on the lower end on the spectrum ($100). The only thing the Masochists have ever given me reason to worry about are the laces. The last pair I owned, the original Masochist, had slippery laces that would come undone once or twice a run. Sometimes I had no problem taking a quick break to retie my laces and appreciate the scenery, but sometimes it was just downright annoying. The pair I own now, however, has shorter laces with more grip, which is probably the main difference between the Masochist I and II. I haven’t had too many problems with the laces on the newer pair.
The shoes are now sitting a little forlornly by my door because they got a little too dirty on my morning run. That, of course, is the point of trail shoes and especially the Masochist. I can’t wait until I get to put them on again and see where they’ll take me next.
The Juice series of pocket-size multi-tools are an industry leader. A focused blend of tools, features and size have put these Leatherman's on top.
The lineup consists of four multi-tools with a varying array of tools depending on your application of use. The Juice XE6 ($61.20) leads the pack with 18 tools and comes in at a whopping 6.7 oz, while the Juice C2 ($41.90) is the smallest in the line with 12 tools and weighing in at 4.3 oz.
With 18 tools the XE6 is far too bulky to be a carry knife and has too many tools that will never see use by most customers. The C2 is more on par with what is desirable in an every day carry size but doesn't have all of the tools needed. The CS4 is a blend of the C2 and the S2.
The Juice S2 ($41.90) is the perfect pocket multi-tool. It has everything you could want for a day hike, a hunting trip or an afternoon fishing your local stream, yet still is comfortable and adaptable to everyday carry.
The main tools included in the S2 package are pliers, a 420hc knife blade, scissors, four screwdrivers and a bottle/can opener.
The plier tool is full size and built strong. It includes both needle nose and regular pliers along with wire cutters and hard-wire cutters. In testing, the hard-wire cutters easily handled bailing wire and the tip of the needle nose pliers were precision machined enough to remove a fine metal sliver from a finger. Full size power and precision craftsmanship make this a standout tool.
Knife blades need to readily accessible and quick to deploy the S2 has located the knife on the outside of the tool to make deployment easier. The 420hc blade works well in this package, but does not lock open. I usually prefer a harder metal for blades but found that this blade is not lacking in it's capabilities. Shaping on the blade is strong in the back cutting portion and comes to a fine tip at the front 1/4 inch. Blade length comes in at 2.6 inches. Repeated testing of this blade on everything from cardboard to wood, found that it stood up to abuse and accepted a new edge when sharpened.
When it comes to screwdrivers this multi-tool has it covered. Three flat head drivers and a phillips driver let you turn any screw you commonly come across. Positive locking on the bits allows for a great amount of torque to be applied without slipping or breaking. Three flat heads maybe a little excessive and I wouldn't mind seeing the small one replaced with a long awl. I am impressed with the build on these drivers but find the overall package lacking in design.
The can opener works well. I opened several #10 cans and it handled the thick metal as expected. The bottle opener also worked when tested. What can I say it's a can opener. Nothing fancy to woo you, just a tool that does the job.
Now comes my favorite tool in the box and the one that makes the S2 a complete package for me. Scissors. These scissors are accessed on the outside of the tool and are incorporated well in the design. With the tool body held in your fist the thumb easily operates the shears. The scissors are large and allow for use in cutting everything. They cut fishing line, paper, even fingernails with out bending and warping. The spring is strong, thick and responsive. It will always open the scissors making one finger use an ease.
With an overall length of 3.25 inches, width of .5 inches, height of 1.38 inches and weight of 4.4 oz this multi-tool is compact enough to carry everyday and strong enough to get the job done when outdoors.
Features on every multi-tool in the line include: a lanyard ring, 100% stainless steel body, anodized aluminum handle scales and a 25-year warranty. Having personally tested the 25-year warranty in the past, I can attest that Leatherman backs their products and will handle the problem quickly. The lanyard ring is a little tough to deploy but is a great feature when outdoors. The Juice S2 can be easily tied to a pack or fishing vest and with a little strip of 400 grit sandpaper adhered to the back to sharpen hooks, it becomes the ultimate fishing tool.
With four knives in they lineup and up to 18 tools available the Juice series by Leatherman has a multi-tool for anyone. For me though, nothing compares to the perfect pocket multi-tool, the Juice S2.
The Osprey Kode 30 ($139) may not be the perfect ski pack, but it’s the closest I’ve found in my two decades of skiing and pack wearing. Here’s why.
As expected for an Osprey pack, the light-but-supportive suspension is excellent and the Kode skis extremely well. Load it up with as much weight as you want (I’ve skied it with 25 pounds), cinch it down tight, and it feels like an extension of your body. No bobbing or lurching or feeling like a mischievous pack monkey is yanking you backward. It’s a critical attribute for a ski pack, and nobody likes mischievous pack monkeys.
Backpanel access is another. In other words, you access the pack’s main compartment from the foam-stiffened backpanel, which zips open and makes it easy to set the pack down in the snow and easily get at your stuff without getting snow in the pack. Because it zips all the way down to the bottom, it also changes the way you pack your gear. Gone are the days carefully calculating your packing strata, or having to dig forever to find that item in the bottom of your pack. Everything in your pack is easily accessible and well-cradled — nothing spills out when you zip it all the way open.
A dedicated tool pocket on the pack’s front side features storage sleeves for shovels, probes, and repair kits. Critically, the pocket is easy to open with one zipper. All the zippers on the pack have big, looped zipper pulls that are easy to open with gloves.
Another winning feature is the gaping hipbelt pockets that can hold cameras, bars, inclinometers, dried chicken feet good-luck charms, and whatever small stuff you want to keep at the ready. They’re the biggest hipbelt pockets I’ve ever seen and I love them. A dedicated, zippered hydration pocket sits in the main compartment (against your back) and an insulated sleeve on the shoulder strap helps prevent inconvenient nipple freezing. And nobody likes inconvenient nipple freezing.
I’ve been skiing the Kode 30 for a year and find durability excellent, with no problems so far. The A-frame ski carry system works well. There’s also a slick, stow-able helmet carry system on the top of the pack that holds your lid securely. All in all, it’s a great feature set with few flaws.
“Few” does not mean “none,” however. Here are a few nitpicks.
—The pack could be just a little bit bigger for all-day trips. You can jump up to the Kode 38, which I’ve skied and like, but it features little increase in main-pocket interior space and its buckled lid makes accessing your avy tools a multi-step process.
—I never use the fleece goggle pocket because I find it interferes with access to the main compartment.
—I’m used to it now, but it would be nice if you didn’t have to unclip the shoulder straps to access the main compartment via the backpanel.
—The compression straps on the side of the pack use locking buckles, which makes cinching the pack down a two-step process. This can be annoying and I see no reason for it. Non-locking buckles work just fine.
—Lastly, there is only one very small interior organizer pocket in the main compartment that isn’t nearly big enough. I’d like a bigger interior pocket with room for my compass, lighter, sunscreen, and whatever other random skier crap I want to put in there but don’t want cluttering up my beloved hipbelt pockets.
These are all minor complaints, but they’re enough to make the great Kode 30 fall just short of the perfect ski pack. But unless I need something bigger for an all-day epic or a multi-day ski, it’s the pack you’ll see on my back every day in the backcountry.
The Black Diamond Verdicts have been my quiver of one for three years. Since I first clicked into them, I've never coveted anther ski. They've taken me through the white room in the Beaverheads, railed the 'roy at Big Sky, busted through mangy crud in the Swans, and launched a crack or two in Glacier National Park. They've toured the divide in the Great Burn, and traversed from Snowbowl to the Rattlesnake's Main Trailhead. They've shredded 6" of glorious pow atop logging slash at Great Divide, and they've blazed the extraordinary trees at Lost Trail. With perhaps 120 days on the snow, they've more than paid for themselves, and I can't recall a single time that I ever wished for anything else in a ski— except they could be lighter.
I scored them from Dave, one of Missoula's most talented boot fitters, with years of experience at Pipestone Mountaineering and now working at the Trailhead. Dave's squeezed untold numbers of feet into hot and maleable boots, customizing each to conform to the corns, bone spurs, ingrown toenails, bunions and various nuances that sprout from feet that spend time crammed into hardshell boots and flying down mountains. He squeezed me into a pair of BD Methods, and when he was done they fit like a glove. They've been durable, and have remained comfortable too.
For a binder, Dave set me up with Fritcshi Freeride Pluses. Like the Verdicts, they've performed admirably—only rarely prereleasing and without any slop, even when ripping groomers. But they too could be lighter, and a lighter setup is definitely in the works!
Highly recommend visiting Blodgett Mountain. There's a famous paleontologist related to Joseph Blodgett.
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