What’s In Our Gearheads’ Backcountry Ski Kits?
Bill and Casey are two of backcountry.com’s finest Gearheads. They recently summited Denali, and they’re currently attempting to ski the top 50 greatest descents in North America. These guys tour every chance they get, and they happen to know a lot about the best gear for the job. Below are the kits Bill and Casey prefer to pack for their backcountry missions.
Backpack: I carry the Black Diamond Alias Pack. I used to roll with a 27L, but this 32L is a bit bigger and allows me to carry some extra layers without everything overflowing. I can even get away with packing a lightweight tarp in here if I plan to sleep outside.
Mountaineering Ice Axe: When things get icy, my Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe becomes invaluable. Aside from being able to self-arrest if you decide to fall and slide down the mountain, you can also chop steps for your buddies behind you. Plus it looks really cool on the outside of your pack.
Crampons: I use the Black Diamond Sabretooth Pros. I try to do a lot of research on where I’m going before I leave the house, so I don’t always carry them. If you do end up needing them and don’t have them, though, you might as well head home or pick a different route. These steel crampons are overkill in warmer snow conditions, but if you travel to someplace really cold, like Denali or Moose’s Tooth, steel is essential, as aluminum will not hold up.
Medical Kit: I don’t use it much, but to have it in the pack is essential. I would hate to look at my busted ski partner and tell him or her that the best I can do is wait with them. In there, I have hand warmers, an emergency blanket, a blister kit, and triangle bandages. With these few tools I have a lot more options and can provide a lot more basic care before the SAR men/women get there.
Gloves: I try to have a pair of liners as well as a pair of general mitts (in my opinion the Black Diamond Lobster Gore-Tex Mitts are the only gloves you’ll ever need.) Sometimes I even bring a big pair of high-altitude mitts in case I need to quickly warm my hands for a minute. It’s also nice if your partner’s hands get cold; you have some options for them.
SPOT Locator: My Mom bought this for me a few years ago. It works amazingly. I’ve never had to hit the SOS ($10,000-helicopter-ride button) but I know it’s in my pack if I ever do have to. A PLB could be the difference between you or your partner waking up in a hospital versus a coffin. On a lighter note, on mine, you can hit the OKAY button to track where you are and then upload it to Facebook if you want. Remember: if you don’t hit the OKAY button and put it on Facebook, you weren’t there.
2-Way Radio: BCA came out with some better ones this year specifically for ski touring. I bought these years ago and they seem to work fine. The days of screaming to each other up the mountain are over. I can radio up and let my partner know that I hit all the rocks and they should choose a different route, or give any other good piece of advice to them, and vice versa.
Glacier Lines: I like to take two 8mm ropes. They’re not an everyday item, but when I need them, this is my choice. Being split means the party can share the load and not one person needs to carry the entire rope. Most of the time you’d need a harness as well, but on some descents you may only need to rig the rope and use it as a hand line.
Hat: My personal favorite piece of gear is my Carhartt ear flap hat. This has three different levels of breathability: ear flaps up, ear flaps down, and ear flaps down and attached under the chin so they hug your face. Made out of nylon, so it dries pretty quickly, plus you look like a badass, or a rabbit hunter.
Goggles: I usually get away with always wearing my glacier glasses but when the weather decides to get nasty, goggles come in handy. They are a little warmer and block the wind better.
Backpack: The Arc’Teryx Arrakis 40 is the backpack I frequently use for tours. There’s something to be said about a pack that can take a straight-shot from the point of an ice axe. Not that you should ever hit your pack with your axe, but it’s reassuring to know you could.
Multi-tool: A crucial element of any backcountry kit is a knife or multi-tool. I prefer the multi-tool because of the versatility. The one pictured here is a Leatherman Crunch, which I particularly like because of the adjustable vice-grips. It’s really nice to be able to grab onto something and pull as hard as you can, especially during binding repair (read: smashing, pulling, and cursing) in the middle of a storm day.
Water Bottles: I have one basic Nalgene, a 32oz model (I couldn’t find it, so it’s not pictured). The bottle you see is a Hydroflask. These are incredible pieces of water-bottle technology, straight out of the future. I fill mine with hot liquid the night before to give it time to cool down to a reasonable drinking temperature. My beverage of choice in the backcountry is hot Tang with a cinnamon stick (recipe courtesy of Jack Lucas).
Sunglasses: A good pair of shades is crucial, and easy to forget when you’re starting your tour before sunrise. Anyone who’s ever hiked a whole day with goggles on can tell you how much fun it is to sweat into that foam liner all day.
Ice Axe: For general use I’ll usually use the Black Diamond Venom. It’s a great all-around tool that works well for self-arrest and, in a pinch, can be used to climb some steeper ice when paired with its hammered twin.
Avalanche Beacon: I use the Mammut Pulse Barryvox. When I bought this, I didn’t know all that much about avalanche beacons. I knew this one was on sale at the time. However, I have since come to really appreciate the features and ease of use this beacon offers. “My beacon says we should go straight ahead, why are you walking in a circle?”
Probe: We all know it’s important to be able to whip out and straighten your probe before it hits the ground, right? Is that not the most important feature of any probe? What if Inigo Montoya shows up at the top of The Pfeifferhorn, accuses you of killing his father, and challenges you to a probe-duel…to the death? You’ll still be fumbling to unsheathe your probe when he stabs you through the heart. Don’t be that guy. Buy this probe, and stay safe out there this season.
Shovel: This is my shovel. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Puffy: I tend to run hot when I’m skinning or booting uphill; consequently, I tend to sweat. Because of this, when I stop moving I get chilled quickly, especially if it’s a windy day. Having a small, compressible down jacket easily accessible is key. I’ll often hang this in its stuff sack off my pack or climbing harness so I can throw it on at a moment’s notice. My favorite, shown here, is the Montbell Ultralight Down Jacket. I slept in this jacket for almost 30 nights straight, with no showers, and it didn’t smell nearly as bad as it should have. This is probably not the most important feature of the jacket, I just thought it was kinda neat. People from the Pacific NorthFresh and other wet climates might consider a synthetic version.
Extra Gloves: I’m a firm believer that “more gloves” is better than “less gloves.” I’ve found this to be especially true when exploring new terrain where I don’t quite know what to expect. For a heavier glove, I prefer a lobster-style glove. It combines a bit more warmth with a reasonable amount of dexterity. Plus, they remind me of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who doesn’t want every backcountry ski trip to feel like a Ninja Turtles adventure? Someone I don’t want to ski with, that’s who.
First Aid/Repair Kit: Check it out, Mom. Keepin’ it safe. At least bring some Band-Aids; you don’t want to get blood all over your new threads. That’s limited edition, bro’! “Yeah, so, um, does your warranty cover blood stains? If it helps, it’s my own blood.”
Crampons: A good pair of crampons will do wonders in the right circumstances. Sometimes it makes more sense to throw the skis on your back and just start spiking your way up. The Black Diamond Sabretooths are my weapon of choice when the route gets steep and skins just won’t do. Depending on your shoe size, you’ll likely want to pick up the extension bars to pair them with ski boots.
Snow Study Kit: I sewed this kit when I was taking a snow study course at the university. I didn’t do so well in the class (snow happens; I’m sure you understand), but I did make this nifty polarfleece kit to hold my tools for use when digging snow pits. These include: a crystal card, thermometer, logbook, various writing utensils, a magnifying jeweler’s loupe, and an inclinometer. I don’t use these all the time, but they can be good to have around.