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Backcountry 101, Part 4: The Gear
So you’re reading this series and thinking “I got this.” You want to get some gear and start going out. Walking into a gear shop can be overwhelming. The bright colours, terms like ‘flex profile’ and ‘80 degree cuff rotation’ are getting thrown around in excessive amounts. It’s overwhelming. Good thing we’re here to help.
Step one is to be honest with yourself in your skiing abilities and what you plan to do. Lots of us think we’re all about rad huckage and sending the gnar but realistically do you plan on dropping huge cliffs in a thin Rockies snowpack when you’re kilometers from the road?
We’re slightly biased here at SkiUphill and we think that lighter gear makes going uphill easier. Most of our days out are spent going uphill and skiing variable snow so it makes sense to get a ski and boot that’s good in all conditions and light enough for more laps. Is it worth taking a 112mm underfoot powder-ski out every day for that deep pow that may or may not be there? Remember you’ve been checking the weather religiously at this point so you have a pretty good idea of what’s out there.
Gear seems like a serious investment and it can be, but depending on how much you get out it may last a long time. It’s not uncommon for boots and bindings to last 5+ years. Consider it an investment, and remember you can dump the gym membership because you’ll be getting all the workouts you need.
There’s lots of marketing lingo out there around boots. Remember that a lot of websites and magazines get paid to pump out favourable reviews on the ‘best in class’ boot, which might not be the best boot, just the best paid for boot.
The first step to pick a boot is to evaluate your season skiing. Pick a boot class that suits your days out, not what EpicSlash.com says is the best boot. Generally AT boots are divided into weight classes, so pick the class first and then the brand within the class for the best fit. Always remember, fit trumps feature and weight (GASP) in any ski boot.
If you’re out doing meadow skips, Wapta tours, hut trips and laps at Crowfoot or Bow Summit with the odd couloir or drop thrown in, look into a 1000-1200g boot. The features typical of this class are low weight, a better range of motion than your ankle and a softer flex which may require a more neutral stance to drive skis. We at SkiUphill do all our skiing in this weight of boot and we find them to be more than adequate for even the steepest of lines.
If you’re a heavier person or you get a bit sendy (I’m talking big hucks here, not 10 footers) you may want to step up and get a beefier boot. The 1200-1500g weight class seems to be the most saturated market area, so you’ll have no problem finding a good set of slippers. However, jump back to step one and evaluate your skiing. Many people skiing a heavier boot can often benefit from a weight reduction with no detriment to their days out. It’s worth consideration.
1500g+ boots are for the freeriders amongst us. If you’re spending 50% of your runs airborne and inverted you know what you want, and that’s a freeride boot. This is overkill for most of us, and at SkiUphill we don’t (can’t?) do spinaroos and flips so we’re not even going to talk about it.
Well we’re in the Rockies, when was the last time it snowed? If you’re dragging a 110+ ski around here you’re doing it wrong.
Underfoot sizing seems to follow trends and we’re coming out of a big fat underfoot spell, but luckily most manufacturers are starting to push sensible waist widths again. Believe it or not, float comes more from the construction of your ski, not the width underfoot. Anyone remember Heli Skis? Compare the float you get from them to a modern ski and you’ll agree that there’s more to a ski than the number on the waist.
We think that 90-100mm underfoot with a modern construction is the bee's knees for the Rockies. If you’re heading east or south then yeah, it makes sense to break out the big boards but again, evaluate what you do. Take one trip to Revy a season and tour every weekend on the 93N? Think about it, it might be worth just renting some strength sapping boards when you’re there.
Luckily the Euros never bought the fat ski myth so we get our skis straight from them.
So you’ve got skis and boots and now you need to attach them to each other to slide down snow. Where to start? Do we need the TUV DIN certified forward pressure with maximal toe retention many springed Autobot or are those scary little pin things fine?
If you’re on a 1000-1500g boot, a lighter tech binding is probably what you want. You’re in control, skiing at reasonable speeds in softer snow and enjoying the turns. You’re not auditioning for the latest TGR flick or hucking cliffs big enough to need the elasticity a hybrid binding provides. We’ve got some shiny Plums in stock with adjustable release values so you don’t end your season early if you run over a bump in a whiteout. Plus, you can colour coordinate your gear.
A heavier hybrid binding has some of the elasticity of an alpine binding, keeping you in your skis when the forces are high. Think big pillow runs, cliffs and heavy skis. If you’re not sure you need this kind of binding then you probably don’t.
The final type of bindings are race bindings, ultralight and minimalist. They’re stronger than you think. More than a few of us ski everything on race bindings, even the steeps, and we don’t prerelease. Food for thought.
Don’t want to buy right away? That’s fine too. Places like MEC, the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre, Gear Up Sports in Canmore and Backtrax Banff offer rentals. It’s a good idea to rent before you buy to see if you actually like earning your turns before dropping your hard earnt money on the shiny light stuff. If your budget is limited places like MEC Gear Swap and the Facebook buy and sell pages have got you covered.
Of course you’ll also need a beacon, shovel and probe for avalanche rescue. All avalanche safety equipment has the same certification. What varies is the number of antennas in the beacons, and the search ranges. While search ranges vary from what's advertised by manufacturers, a 3 antennas beacon will make search faster and easier in the very stressful event of a burial.
If you’ve got any questions just come by for a coffee and we can chat about your goals and gear.
Written by Kieran Crimeen