The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Caleb (now hitched and on a plane to Puerto Rico – Congrats bro (not trying to be gangster…he’s actually my brother)) said it well – we bought a longer season with our bases. I spent a few hours and most of a ptex candle trying to put something back in my ptex account.
The process for this is pretty simple:
You can do some prep with a razor blade to get anything that sticks up out of the base off.
(1)Get a ptex candle – Backcountry.com has a pack of four for six bucks, but I’m sure your local ski shoppe can hook you up nicely, anywhere that rents will also have mounds no doubt.
(2)Light the candle – I used a lighter, make sure you get the candle burning using the blue part of the flame to lower the soot content of the material.
(3)Let the candle drip into the gashes in your base.
(4)Use a metal scraper, much like you would with wax, to remove the excess and smooth the base. I usually hit any rough areas with a little bit of hi grit sand paper.
This will be my first time on a real park/twin ski – I’m interested to see how they ski. The other setup, featuring the color purple, is a testiment to The Girl’s ability to procure things at low cost. Even though she’s in the industry and gets employee pricing nearly everywhere she found a nice entry-level set of carving skis for nearly nothing. They are the Solomon Focus, which is now the three-model Origens series, with rental bindings and some old but unused Rossi boots. Turns out to be a great setup for a badass who needs a little honing of skills.
The gear test of the week was taking the tlt5 boot out on some hard snow and really turning up the heat. I didn’t lay down any superg turns but I did carve them hard and I felt like there was ample support for all of the carving I needed. I used the down hill boosters for both days at the resorts and again had all of the support I needed. So maybe I’m no Jake Zamansky but for the turns I’m laying down these boots have everything I need for a day on groomers.
I may have more to day about this on friday after I hit alta on a full alpine set-up, for some comparison.
Bottom-line: If you have one set of poles, and do lots of things that need poles, these are the poles to have.
I’ve been very very happy with these, and found them quite versitile. To illustrate:
Use one as a hiking stick.
Use two for hiking moderately steep terrain and even snow up to the point that you should have axes.
Use the pair for hiking with a heavy pack on rough terrain.
Use the pair for skiing.
I picked them because:
(1)Anti-shock systems are a waste of weight.
(2)twistlock systems have a hard time dependibly doing, well either
(3flip lock has its vulnerabilities (sand) but they are more depenable.
(4)They telescope small enough to pack away for hands-on-rock third classing.
(5) sturdy durable shafts can handle body weight and large loads.
What?!? You have more than one pair of poles? Well then you can spend hours debating which pole is perfect for your next adventure!
Just to get you started here are a couple perspectives from some people who know stuff:
Poles: Any pair will do. I skied for a long time with a cheap pair of non-adjustable poles. Ho-hum. Toward the end of last season I upgraded to an adjustable set. The difference was remarkable. Being able to telescope your pole-height for different climbing conditions is a nice perk. But really, any old set of poles will do. Especially if you are prone to losing stuff. And poles have a way of being dropped in the backcountry.
Anyway, in this game, weight is everything. This is relatively new ground in the ski mountaineering world, at least on this side of the pond. For sure, manufacturers like to talk about the weight of boots and skis but performance ultimately trumps all other considerations. And when you deviate from the obvious tools of skiing, little to no attention is paid to the heft of gear. One need only to venture onto any skin track in the mountains and witness the plenitude of ballistic nylon packs and baggy clothes to know that few are giving weight much of a consideration.
Think about something as basic as poles. I mean, do we really need poles that adjust? Who screws with that feature, anyway? Flick locks or any other version of these adjustable nuisances? Pah! Clever little things until they freeze or slip and do any thing else that dampens the spirit. But the real reason not to use them? Weight. My adjustable ski poles, half of which are carbon (not naming any brands here), tip the scale at 305 grams each. Compare that to my Dynafit Carbon race poles at 141 grams. Is there really a choice? That’s just shy of 6 ounces per hand per pole plant. Anyone out there not think that matters?
My nearly-a-doctor brother Caleb:
Recommends cheap carbon poles, light but inexpensive enough that you don’t mind loosing them. Let me note that when Caleb says “cheap” he really means “beg, borrow, or steal.”
So I’d say, get some light poles and get the Khumbu’s.