2012 Ski Gear Advice

The ski season’s nearly upon us and the kids don’t really need shoes – well, not as much as I need a pair of Trab Volare’s anyway – so here’s the latest round up of all things new and shiny in ski mountaineering.  Thanks to Andy Hall over at Backcountry UK for helping out with advice and ski kit to test.

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LATEST TRENDS
There’s no end in sight yet – skis are still getting fatter!  In response to this, several manufacturers of touring kit are coming out with new lightweight,  wide bodied, high performance skis.  These are great pieces of kit, but more and more niche in terms of usage – ie backcountry soft snow skis, rather than all round touring skis, or one-ski-does-all all mountain skis etc.
So nowadays more than ever, you need to think very carefully what you are really going to be using them for – ie whether that new fat pair of superlight skis really is strong enough for lapping 2 million moguls at the Grands Montets, or perhaps better suited to skinning through the woods in search of untracked powder…  Likewise, new binding designs are appearing now that are also designed for touring on wider bodied skis.

NEW SKIS 2012

Pick of the crop – to my mind at least – is the new range of Trab backcountry touring skis.  The brand is now becoming well established in the UK thanks to Mountain Boot Company (who also import Scarpa and Grivel) but mainly due to the fact that Trab undisputedly make the best built, best performing lightweight skis money can buy…

My Trab Stelvio Lites continue to hold up well – now on their 3rd season and still skiing perfectly, without damage despite tons of abuse, which say it all really – so I’ll be using those for my big multi day tours again this season.  On the early season powder touring front, it’s a toss up between the good old Scott Crusairs which have been brilliant these last two seasons and lusting after a new pair of Trab Volare’s which look set to be this season’s ‘must have’ ski for deep snow backcountry touring.  Everyone I know who’s skied the Volare raves about them in all snow conditions and at under 3kg for a mighty 99mm underfoot, it’s very tempting!

For all mountain all rounders, both the Scott Mission and Scott Neo Aversion continue to be excellent choices – whereas for a more deep snow orientated ski, I’d look at the new Scott Venture and the new Dynastar Legend 94.

TOURING BINDINGS

No big changes here at Fritschi, who still have the Eagle and Freeride Pro dominating the market – for 80-90% of British ski tourers the Freeride pro is probably the best bet.

A word of warning about the Marker Tour TR binding that appeared last year – this is definitely one to avoid, as we’ve seen several breakages of the plastic parts as soon as it hit the snow and the design is also poor and inefficient in our experience for real touring.

The biggest changes this season are at Dynafit, who are bringing out the new Radical series – the Radical ST is an updated version of the Vertical binding, with an easier boot step in system and improved climbing stand, whereas the Radical FT is a new binding designed specifically for skis over 100mm underfoot.  It shares the same improved step in and climbing stand features as the ST, but has a wider hole drilling pattern to mount securely onto wider bodied skis.

Still no sign of the much vaunted Trab touring binding, which according to Daniella at Trab has now been put back to next year in order to ‘make sure it is perfect!’

BOOTS

The freeride boot category continues to expand, with big mainstream manufacturers like Salomon and Technica getting in on the act – this season they are offering entry level freeride boots, as well as better quality Pebax shelled boots like the Salomon Quest and Tecnica Cochise.

The new Dynafit Titan looks a very good slim fitting boot, as does the lightweight mid volume Scarpa Hurricane and for a wider fitting boot, look at the Garmont Delerium.

On the touring boot front, there are various notable changes this season:

First off, some good news about the popular Scarpa Maestrale boot – this season they’ve changed the buckle attachment system from allen key bolts (which came undone), to rivets (which won’t come undone!) – so if you are thinking of getting a pair, just make sure you are buying 2011-12 stock – ie check the buckles are held on with rivets not bolts.

Black Diamond have also sorted out the cold boot issues that plague there freeride boots on the Black Diamond Quadrant touring boot – they’ve added more volume to the shell, particularly around the toe box, which allows a much thicker and warmer liner.  This is now a great mid flex touring boot, with a precise 4 buckle design as well as an excellent walk mode.

If you are after something with maximum stiffness on the descents, then look at either the Scarpa Mobe or Garmont Radium – these are a little heavier, but more supportive and still dynafit compatible.

TRANSCEIVERS

The Arva Link and Mammut Pulse are now well established as the best top-of-the-range transceivers on the market.  Both use the same internal analogue and digital and W-Link technology, so it’s just a case of getting your hands on each one and deciding which you prefer.

The best mid market transceiver is probably the Arva 3 Axes, which is a 3 antenna design running on dual analogue/digital technology – the unit has a revamped casing and layout this season too.

For those on more of a budget the new DTS  Tracker 2 has overcome a few teething troubles and is in the shops now, but the new Mammut Element sits along side it as an equally good, easy to use modern 3 antenna digital design.

CLOTHING

I’ve been using a lot of shiny new Art’teryx kit over the last year and it’s all been brilliant!  Stand out pieces for skiing and touring include:

  • Arcteryx Fision SL Jacket – wore this all the time last season in bad weather, took it on several cold touring weeks, wore it ice climbing, Greenland Expedition etc etc – it’s an insualted goretex shell jacket with pit zips – so works well as a warm layer and a shell in cold conditions, but saving the weight of carrying two seperate garments.
  • Gamma SK Pant – softshell ski touring pant – they fit just great, have pockets in all the right places, good boot draw cord and mine are in a lightish colour that doesn’t show the dirt!
  • Atom LT Jacket – lightly insulated wind resistant jacket – super light weight, warm-but-not-too-warm and windproof on the way down – what more would you need!
  • Atom SV Hoody – one of these of course – same as above but with warmer insulation and a hood – makes a great spare layer for when it turns nasty.
  • Alpha FL Jacket – super light, minimalist shell jacket – made from the excellent new Gore Active Shell fabric.
  • Alpha SV Glove – ultimate ski touring gloves – just don’t look at the price tag!