Skiing and Snowsports

Friday, March 14, 2014

Voile Vector BCs

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 12:18 PM

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.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sick of the Cold? Check out this mask designed by a Montana hunter

Posted By on Sat, Dec 21, 2013 at 4:49 PM

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ContourROAM Pros and Cons

Posted By on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 10:01 AM

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.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Boots that Changed My Life

Posted By on Tue, Jan 1, 2013 at 8:36 PM

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.

Tecnica Cochise 90 Women's boots
  • Tecnica Cochise 90 Women's boots

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!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Kingdom for a Pocketwatch

Posted By on Tue, Dec 25, 2012 at 4:00 AM

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.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Osprey Kode 30

Posted By on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 1:37 PM

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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Black Diamond Verdicts

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 at 3:12 PM

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.

Pyramid Peak, Swan Range

Miner Lakes Basin, Beaverhead Mountains

Grant Creek Basin, Rattlesnake Wilderness

Montana/Idaho Divide, Great Burn Wilderness

Bird Woman Glacier, Glacier National Park
  • Chad Harder
  • Bird Woman Glacier huck, Glacier National Park

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!

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Marmot Scree softshell pant: Universe's best?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 10:46 PM

I'm convinced that every outdoors-loving person should have a pair of these pants. The ultimate cool weather outdoor pant, they're perfect for spring/fall hiking, Nordic skiing, cool-weather backpacking, spring mountaineering, snowshoeing, spring skiing, non-warm climbing, really-cold-weather running, or pretty much anything active you want to do in cooler weather. Made of Marmot’s M3 fabric, they’re light, stretchy, water-resistant, and surprisingly durable.


They also have lots of pockets, a key requirement for me, and the pockets have zippers. That, folks, is rad. See, ‘cause then nothing falls out. Which is nice when you’re carrying a lot of stuff. Stuff falling out of your pockets is decidedly not rad. And because the fabric is stretchy, you can stuff a ridiculous amount of crap in them. I often use them for multi-day trips where I'm likely to have a compass, lighter, lip balm, little notebook, pen, digital voice recorder, camera lens cap, lens cleaning cloth, point-and-shoot camera, and a few bars in my front pockets. Because of the stretch, I can even cram my shades and maybe my gloves and a hat in there, too, if I want. The map pocket on the thigh is perfect for carrying, you guessed it, maps. But because it's got the zipper and it's stretchy, it's also great for all kinds of super valuable things like avalanche beacons and flasks.
Maybe my favorite feature, though, is the little elastic cord on the ankles. Tighten that sucker down and the pants cinch onto your boot so you can ski or snowshoe without gaiters. I haven't used my gaiters since I got these pants. Thanks to a zipper expander, they also fit well over alpine or tele boots, too, making them an excellent choice for ski touring.
They seem to hold up well for skiing or other rough activities. I've been wearing mine for two years now and they're showing virtually no wear whatsoever. I've heard from other people that they hold up to the rigors of climbing and mountaineering just as well.
The only thing keeping them from being the Universe's ultimate pant is that I wish they had an integrated belt. If you're doing serious outdoor stuff an elastic waist just isn't going to cut it. But they do have belt loops, so a webbing belt with a low-profile buckle does the trick. Just would be nice if you didn't need one.
Small complaint though, consider they're, by far, the best skiing/hiking/cold-weather-tromping pants I've ever used. The screes will set you back $100 and are available wherever they are sold (Marmot's website can direct you to retailers).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mammut PULSE Barryvox

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 at 3:04 PM

For those of you out there with Mammut PULSE Barryvox avalanche transceivers, be advised that Mammut has released a firmware update that will enhance the capabilities of the device. To learn more, visit the Mammut web site, where you can find a dealer capable of installing the update.

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