observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Backcountry

Climbing Skins – Where to start, and how to maintain.

The Girl on new skis!

The Girl on new skis!

I’ve been on a pair of BD Ascension Nylon STS Skins for two seasons now and the Girl has been on a new pair this season.

With all things ski related, it is very important to consider the whole set-up:

Boots: DynaFit TLT 5
Bindings: DynaFit FT 12
Skis: Volkl Polar Bear (Length 177 cm, Tip/Waist/Tail 130cm/94cm/113cm, 23.3 m radius)

If you’re riding a wide ski like the Hellbents I’d suggest you look at the split version of this skin.

Bottom Line:

Happy about where the Ascensions got me!

Happy about where the Ascensions got me!

This is a skin is a work horse. It doesn’t have the light weight or glide of a mohair option, but it is more durable and fool proof. By fool proof I have three things in mind: (1) better traction so you can get by with poorer skinning technique, (2) less sensitive to wetness. Mohair skins can wet out faster.

In my experience BD glue is superior to G3 and BCA’s offerings, as are the “cheat sheets” shipped with the skins for storage.

The tail clip has never failed me and I’ve gotten the skins pretty wet on both sides.

This should be everyone’s first skin and go-to. BD’s glue makes them easy to rip (especially standing up which saves hours of wallowing in the snow), less sensitive to getting snow on the glue, and less prone to fail due to poor skinning technique. The tail clip is also very helpful for averting skin disasters. I recommended them for the Girl’s first set because I knew they wouldn’t let her down even while she’s dialing in her transitions and skinning technique.

Two important bits of skinning technique:
-Drag your toes – this allows you to clear the skin of snow on each stride, prevents you from doing extra work by lifting your ski, and I think it helps your muscles (based on un-educated guesses and things my PT said when she wasn’t talking about this).
-Don’t step backward. It’s like walking forward in SCUBA flippers, your tails will dig into the snow and you’ll force snow under the tail of your skin.

I’ve had the skins for two years, and I’m planning a trip up King’s Peak. I’d like to make sure they do well on that trip since there will be more than 20 miles of skinning. So I did a little skin maintenance. Mostly, I’m bringing skin wax – I’ll probably pre apply a little to be safe (this keeps hair on the skin from getting wet), and I ironed the glue through parchment paper.

Here are a few of the links that I look at for reference on “skin care:”

From the late great RandoSteve:
Iron Skin Glue Recharge If your skins are a little less sticky than you’d like this is probably all that you need to do.

From Larry’s Cascade Resource:

Climbing Skin Maintenance This may be the key to making your skins immortal! I’m going to start washing my skins more… or ever.

From the Brian Harder at GetStrongerGoLonger:

Shredded Skin Repair – Great for that moment when you think you’re going to need to buy new skins!

and Skin Maintenance So it’s been covered above… but it’s nice to see it more than once.

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SkiMo quivers and insulation.

We’ve got a good window of stability in the Wasatch right now, which happens to coincide with some serious “nest soiling” by the refineries in the Salt Lake Valley – so if you want to breathe hard its time to skin!

I’ve been having some great days out with GeoDave and the Crusher (I call him that because of how hard he climbs) and have put some of my gear through the paces. I wrote a bit about using the NanoPuff and the ROM Jacket together. On some of the tours since that post the temps have been significantly lower and we’ve stopped to dig pits and discuss crystal meth, and I’ve gotten a bit chilled. On tours where I could titrate my exertion to regulate body temp I wouldn’t have resorted to this but I busted out my down puffy, the Marmot Ama Dablam, and stayed warm. Since it’s a down piece I would have left it behind if it was warmer or if we were going to be pushing the pace because the likelyhood of wetting the jacket would have increased and the nano puff would have sufficed.

I’m also thinking about skis and a little rocker up front like the Dynafit Manaslu.

Brian Harder of Get Stronger Go Longer has the following gear notes from his Christmas excursion to the tetons:

Gear notes

I fueled my week with the usual flasks of Gu/water mixture. I consumed about 45 gels and a handful of Chomps during the five outings. Felt great.

I skied my Dynafit Manaslu 178cm on every trip. I know they’re great in powder and worked well breaking trail in deep snow but they were also good on the firm steeps. No hesitations. They’re mounted with Plum Race 165s and I drove them with my well-worn Dynafit TLT 5 without a tongue and powerstrap.

Got to trial a new favorite jacket of mine, the CAMP ED Protection jacket. It’s similar to many of the uber popular light puffy jackets out there but this one has a more impervious shell, a better fitting and featured hood and some extra length in the torso which keeps things toasty down low.

I carried everything in my trusted CAMP X3 Light pack. Super light and big enough to carry everything.

I’m a fan of Gels for hard days out, though I prefer a thick mix of CarboRocket to anything from GU, and I’m VERY interested in picking up the CAMP X3 pack. The insulation layer Brian is using looks interesting… and on the topic of insulation…

Dane over at Cold Thistle recommends that instead of one big insulating layer you pack a 60g synthetic and a 100g synthetic. What’s that mean? Check out his post: Synthetic insulation 100g to 60g

Now back to the ski quiver, Andy of SLC Sherpa and Skimo machine fame has a great thing going with SkiTRAB:

My quiver* thus is all from the same company has been built around the Maestro and is as follows:

Race ski: Ski Trab Race Aero World Cup (96/64/78, 720 gms in 164cm)

Mountaineering ski: Ski Trab Maestro (107/75/94, 950 gms in 171cm)

Powder ski: Ski Trab Volare (129/99/116, 1480 gms in 178 cm)

*I could have easily added the Trab Free Rando Light (171 cm, 112/79/96, 1200 gms) into this mix but it overlaps with the Maestro significantly.  Differences are increased weight without much to gain in width but along with that mass, it seems much stiffer.
My Harem

Of course there is some crossover in the function of each ski for the above stated purposes as I ski plenty of powder in the race sticks and could take the Volares “mountaineering”, but generally, each ski is a tool with a certain function.  All are equipped with race bindings that shed at least 300 gms per foot from standard tech bindings (The benefits of race bindings in spite lack of heel riser, brakes, etc is a entire other discussion).

I’m still liking what I see from the Dynafit Manasalu, it’s got a bit of early rise which I think is a good move. I’m also interested in hearing more about the race bindings v. regular.


Christmas Eve Reading: Snow Fall

snow-fallThe New York Times has put together an amazing, thoughtful, and educational interactive piece about the avalanche at Tunnel Creek in the Stevens Pass, WA side country. Anyone who skis should read the story, especially if you’re interested in getting out into the backcountry.

That day, like today in the Salt Lake portion of the Wasatch, was rated as a “considerable” avalanche danger – a 3 out of 5 if you like. A day for knowing where you are going and what you are doing. A day for staying home too, or for staying in bounds.

We always roll the dice when we get out, or stay in. But there are days and places when things get really dangerous, situations where once you’re in them you can do everything perfectly and still die.

This morning, sitting reading this story I was struck that Geo Dave and I were sitting looking at a backcountry ski map talking about tours we could do and why tomorrow wasn’t a day we wanted to roll the dice with. The people in this group looked at the same forecast and decided to roll the dice. Reading the account of how they made their decisions, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have gone along were I in that group.

The most important thing about this story is the wake-up call it is for “side-country” skiers. When you’re outside the ropes it’s serious. You can do it safely, but you have to know for yourself that it is. It’s not hard to get the information and equipment that you need:

(1) Beacon, probe, shovel – practice with them, check the batteries before you leave the house, check signals before you start skinning.
(2) Take a basic snow safety course, like the Utah Avalanche Center’s Backcountry 101.
(3) Check the Avalanche reports and weather often throughout the season. AND before you go.
(4) Keep learning: take more courses, read a book or two, and learn the terrain.
(5) Find partners who you understand. Know how your partners make decisions and learn to bring something to the process.

Every step of every tour is your choice. Make sure you are comfortable with those choices, and that you are making them on your own with full understanding and information. Have a clear understanding of where you are going and what you are doing – if someone is going to show you around, do your own research on the conditions and the terrain. If what you find doesn’t fit with what they are saying – don’t go, or go home.

I’m convinced by this incident and my limited experience that the most important decisions in backcountry skiing are not made in the backcountry, but the night before and the morning of. Decisions about where to ski, decisions about whether or not to ski.

Today I went for a trail run. Tomorrow, I’ll be skiing in bounds at a resort that isn’t trying to destroy the Wasatch Backcountry, but I’ll be checking the avalanche advisories.

Stay on top.


Marmot ROM Jacket review

I’ve been putting this jacket through the paces for the last couple months and feel like I have a good handle on how it performs etc.

First, I should remind you that this was a jacket I bought after rather extensive research and experimentation with a specific goal in mind.

Here’s what I wanted:

A VERY breathable, light, windproof jacket with a hood that does well over a helmet or without a helmet.

I was looking for a jacket to solve a problem. I sweat a lot and generate a lot of heat when I’m ski touring. Last year I was doing laps in nothing but a Capaline base layer soaked in sweat. This becomes a problem when the wind kicks up, or when you stop moving. I found my self stopping to add and drop layers and getting cold as soon as I stop. I wanted a jacket that would keep the wind off but also keep me from getting too hot.

The ROM waiting at a transition under a nano puff

The ROM waiting at a transition under a nano puff

From what I read the ROM looked to be the best piece for the job/price. It doesn’t have a high-tech membrane, I’ve got other jackets for that, which keeps the price down.

Sizing:

I’m 6’3″ and 200 lbs, with a long torso and a large fits me very well. I’ve got pleanty of room for layering under it (though on tours I put my insulation on over it rather than loose all the heat) but the fit is athletic enough for trail running with just a light tee-shirt underneath.

I’ve taken the ROM on several ski tours, trail runs, and bike commutes and I’m convinced that I found the perfect jacket for my backcountry travel system.

Here how the jacket works for me on a tour:
– I layer the ROM with a light base layer, usually a Patagonia Capiline 1 or 2, and pack a Patagonia Nano-puff in my backpack.
– On the up I regulate heat by putting the hood up or down, opening and closing the hand-warmer pockets (mesh on the inside, with an interesting almost duct-like pocket design makes them as effective as any pit zip I’ve ever used), and taking off my gloves. I’ve only had to unzip the ROM about 1/3 of the way, while others have had to stop and drop a layer, but most of the time I’m zipped the whole way up. An “up” scenario, where the ROM really stands out is the classic Wasatch approach: The parking lot was chilly so everyone had on a few layers – I was just in the ROM and a Cap 2 base layer, we hit hte skin track and everyone had to stop and drop a layer. As we worked our way up a protected face all the jackets but mine went into the packs, I just unzipped my pockets and took off the hood. When we gained the ridge, just below the summit we got hit by gusts of wind – I closed the windward pocket and flipped up the hood and kept rolling while everyone shivered while fumbling for layers or just gutting out the cold gale.
– At the transitions, if they are quick I’ll just put up the hood and keep moving, If we are standing around I’ll toss on my Nano-puff (I’ll pop it back into the pack for the down as I usually get pretty warm on the down too- the nano puff is a great piece but I think the Arc’teryx Atom LT with a hood and full zip would be a bit better).

As far as wind proofing – bike commuting on freezing mornings is the key test and the long arms and torso make this a great jacket for that – though the tail is cut long it’s not quite long enough to be the perfect bike jacket, but that’s not what I’m looking for. The ROM does shut down the wind though and that’s what I’m looking for.

On trail runs where my pace varies I love the jacket – especially because my trail running usually has a solid amount of scrambling and 3rd, 4th, and maybe 5th class terrain where I have to slow down or risk a very exciting ride. For these sections I put on my light gloves, cinch up the hood and close the pockets – and I’m warm. Then when I’m back up to speed I open everything up and I’m good.

The ROM isn’t waterproof, though it manages moisture well. This is not the jacket you want for real rain or wet snow, but I can count the days in the last decade here in Utah where I’ve needed that. If the weather is worth touring in the ROM should take care of you.


Belay Jackets and Warming Up

Even though those topics sound related they aren’t really.

Dane from Cold Thistle has put together a rather exhaustive post on the belay jacket for alpine climbing.

He argues that synthetics are the way to go, and I’ll agree for the use case he’s talking about. But for a winter trip to the desert I’m going to say that down is better. Your pack is already pretty full right? And maybe you’re a bit warm on the walk to the wall, but then you want all the warmth you can get while you’re chilling between burns.

Since we’re already talking about climbing and staying warm, it makes sense to talk about climbing and getting warm.

The power company climbing blog, one of the better training resources out there has a great piece on warming up to send your project (route). This makes me curious about warm ups for bouldering. Sometimes, specifically when I’ve worked a problem to the point that I just need to come back fresh and send it, I’ve been surprised that after about three problems of increasing difficulty I’m ready to send. This may only work for me because I ride my bike about 20 minutes to get to the gym and do lots of hand and arm warm-up exercises between burns.


Baking a slab.

It’s raining in the Salt Lake Valley Right now. Given the forecasts that means there’s another layer of the snow-cake in the oven right now.

Now’s a good time to interrupt the regular programming of climbing geekery that’s been the focus of this blog for the last several months with some snow notes.

Here’s a great synopsis of what is on the ground and what tonight’s snow is going to be on top of:

On northerly aspects I was finding all the ingredients in place: buried persistent weak layer sitting on top of a bed surface. All we need now is a slab.

And this ski movie looks awesome:

Into The Mind – Official Teaser from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.


Sick.

Literally. I am sick.

Though, let’s be honest, this is pretty sick too:

A couple new pieces of gear that I’m stoked about for the winter season just showed up (I bought them so the DOJ can relax).

The Ama Dablam from Marmot, and the ROM jacket also from Marmot.

Part of the reason I’m psyched about both of these pieces is that the Marmot site has little videos from guides who have been using these jackets, and their descriptions of what the jacket does fit what I want them to do perfectly. It’s a lot more interesting to hear/see someone use gear in the field and how it works in real application than to read about what the jacket was designed to do.

Here’s the clip for the Ama Dablam:

I haven’t put the Ama Dablam to any real tests yet, other than the around-town-in-a-snow storm test. It seems to do quite well but the DWR is definitely just R not at all waterproof so the coat really needs a hardshell if there’s going to be any precipitation anywhere near freezing.

I’ve got the Patagonia Nano Puff as a supplement, from looking at the Baffin Jacket he has on it looks like the Arc’tyrx Atom LT would be a good option for layering as well.

Now, when I’m moving I make a lot of heat… and sweat so I’ve been hunting for a very light windproof piece to use for backcountry skiing and other higher output activities.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the ROM so far. I’ve gone on a run in a snowstorm and several very chilly bike commutes and it’s performed quite well. I’m looking forward to pairing this with the Patagonia Alipine guide pants for this winter’s Backcountry adventures.