10 Pieces of Tech To Take Your Rock Climbing Up A Notch

The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, and most importantly the rock drier. Before you know it, rock climbing season will be here. Whether you’re stoked to send your sport project, or psyched on a mega multi-pitch climb, you’ll want this high-tech climbing gear on your rack or in your pack.

1. Ace the Approach

There’s nothing more stoke-crushing than getting lost on the approach. To avoid this massive time suck, spend some pre-climb time studying the approach so that you and your partners get there efficiently. For approaches involving third- and fourth-class terrain, invest in a good pair of approach shoes. The Scarpa Crux features the stiffness and protection of a traditional approach shoe in a streamlined and lightweight design, making it perfect for your next trip up to something like the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle.

2. Lose Weight

Reducing the weight of your rack is a great way to up your chances of sending your trad project. One way to do that is to ensure that you’re only carrying the gear you need to and up the route. Another is to make sure that your gear is as light as possible. Last spring, Black Diamond’s venerable C4 Camalots received a significant update, getting 17% lighter (and a brighter color treatment, making them easier to identify). Wide crack aficionados will also note that the #4, #5, and #6 cams now feature a trigger keeper, allowing them to be carried with the lobes engaged for easier racking.

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3. Keep Your Head in the Game

If you’re tying in, you should be wearing a helmet for safety’s sake. Over the years, helmets have saved numerous lives along with becoming increasingly light and comfortable. Helmets are also becoming more versatile. Take the Petzl Meteor, a climbing helmet that is also a CE-certified ski touring helmet and features a ski-goggle friendly shape—a great choice if you’re just as likely to plug gear on Cathedral on an April day as you are to ski Tucks.

4. Score Faster Placements

Picking the right piece for the right spot then placing it efficiently is a sure way to avoid the dreaded forearm pump while negotiating the crux. One way to help yourself is by scoping the climb from the ground with an eye toward how you’ll protect the pitch. Another way is to add some of the new Black Diamond Z4s to your rack. Combining the best elements of the C3 and X4 camming units, the Z4 cams are rigid when the trigger is pulled and flexible when released, allowing for easier placements and reducing the chance of placed gear walking. Look for these clever cams in both regular sizes (#0, .1, .2, .3, .4, .5, and .75) and off-sets.

5. Belay Better

If you climb with speedy seconds or slab masters that float up pitches faster than you can reel rope in, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the Kong GiGi and the CAMP Ovo. Used primarily to belay two seconds at once, these lightweight devices—the GiGi is just 2.4 oz—excel at moving rope. This is because the slots are so much easier to pull rope through than a Petzl Reverso or Black Diamond ATC Guide.

6. Get Some Crack Gloves

Developing your movement skills is another way to improve your efficiency on a route. One means of doing that is to practice a host of climbing techniques—face climbing, stemming, chimneying, and jamming, to name a few. Of course, finding stellar jams in the Northeast can be hard; There just aren’t that many cracks here, and many of those that exist are rough on the hands. A modern update to the classic tape glove, the Outdoor Research Splitter Gloves are a fast favorite of crack-addicted climbers and a great way to minimize some of the pain from crack climbing. Splitter gloves are easier to take on and off than traditional tape gloves, which is great when rotating between crack climbing and face climbing, and can be reused time and time again which is something our inner environmentalists appreciate.

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7. Learn Some Rope Tricks

The Mountain Guide Manual by Marc Chauvin and Rob Coppolillo is a must-read for any climber looking to improve their efficiency on the rock and in the mountains. Start playing with their numerous strategies for moving as parties of two and three and you’ll soon realize how much you can do with a rope.

8. Nail the Descent

Whether they’re rapping multiple pitches on these popular Crawford Notch slab climbs or just cleaning a classic Rumney route, many climbers use some sort of personal anchor system (PAS). One awesome PAS is the Petzl Connect Adjust. Super easy to use, the Connect Adjust is unlike other PAS in that it’s made with actual climbing rope which bolsters its strength and adds dynamism to the anchor.

9. Get Sporty

If you frequently find yourself clipping bolts with a smaller partner, the Eldrid Ohm is an easy way to keep the belayer from getting yanked skyward and the climber from hitting the ground. Described by Eldrid as an “assisted-braking resistor,” the Ohm creates increased friction on the rope when clipped to the first bolt for safer sport climbing.

10. Stay Safe

The Kailas Stick Clip has you covered if you love sport climbing, but hate toting around an annoyingly long stick clip for those high first bolts and sketchy first clips. Unlike the telescoping stick clips of yesteryear, the Kailas Stick Clip uses tent-pole style construction (similar to collapsible trekking poles such as the Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles), which allows it to stash inside your pack. An added bonus of the Kailas Stick Clip’s packability is that it’s awesome for traveling sport climbers, as it fits easily in most luggage.

 

Have a favorite piece of climbing gear you can’t live without? Super psyched on a new piece of climbing tech? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Start Planning Your Summer Trips Now: 10 Tips

If you’re contemplating a big adventure this summer, now is the time to start planning. Mark it on your calendar, request work off, and find the team you need to tackle it. Here are 10 things you can do to ensure your trip will be a success.

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1. Find Some Partners

Unless you’re going solo, having the right partners is a critical part of any trip. Late winter is the perfect time to start chatting with friends about summer objectives and building a consensus about what to do, whether you like to climb, backpack, or paddle.

2. Pick a Destination

If you’re anything like us, there are probably so many places on your “must visit” list that it can feel overwhelming to pick one. The process gets even more complex when group dynamics are involved. Start having these discussions now to help narrow the options. As you pare down the list, consider which trips have nearby alternatives in case your desired route isn’t “in condition,” the weather doesn’t cooperate, or it proves too challenging, especially when you start planning it this far out.

3. Research

Pick up the guidebook and search the internet for first-hand accounts to get a more complete picture of what to expect. Learning as much as possible about a trip early in the process is important and will influence everything from your training to your planning to your gear choices.

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4. Pick a Date

Summer schedules fill up fast. Get your group’s trip on the books so that you’re not left sitting at home wondering what might have been. An added bonus—booking flights, reserving hotel rooms, and renting cars are all way less expensive when done far in advance.

5. Reserve a Site/Permit

Whether you’re hiking, climbing, or paddling, many areas require advanced reservations, many of them in the most popular areas require you put in a request or enter a raffle months early. Since the best zones can get filled up quickly, making all campsite reservations and/or obtaining any required permits now is essential.

6. Start Training

There’s nothing worse than showing up for the trip of your life out of shape. While you still have months to train, develop a plan that will put your fitness on the path to success. Not sure where to start? Between them, Uphill Athlete and the Mountain Tactical Institute have training plans for just about every type of outdoor activity.

7. Don’t Forget About Developing Group Skills, Too

Focusing on individual fitness is important, but don’t forget to practice group-specific skills as well. For example, if you’re going to Mount Rainier, make sure your entire group devotes time to developing critical mountaineering skills like crevasse rescue, avalanche rescue, and self arrest.

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8. Do Some Training Climbs

Logging time in terrain is just as important as general fitness training. So if you’re planning a trip to climb something like the Grand Teton, consider tackling some local alpine climbs such as the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle or, as an easier option, Henderson Ridge, both in Huntington Ravine. If you’re planning a mountaineering trip to the Cascade’s volcanoes, think about doing the Lion Head Winter Route while it’s still in condition. Similarly, if you’re going to mountain bike the Monarch Crest Trail, you’ll want to start logging miles ASAP.

9. Buy Trip-Specific Gear

Waiting until a couple of weeks before a trip to purchase trip-specific gear is a recipe for disaster. In such a compressed time period, it might be hard to find what you’re looking for, especially if it’s a niche piece of gear not stocked at your local shop. More importantly, you won’t have much time to learn the ins and outs of that new piece of gear or to break in that new pair of boots.

10. Get Psyched 

It’s easier to train when there’s a goal, it’s easier to justify buying a shiny new piece of gear when it’s for a reason, and work is more bearable when an epic trip is around the corner. Get stoked to get ready for the best trip ever!

Have another trip planning tip that travelers should be doing now? Tell us in the comments!


How Warm is Your Jacket, Really? The Down Equation

Mother nature knows what she’s doing, at least if down fill is any indication. Decades after it was first borrowed from birds to keep us warm, down—with only a handful of improvements—is still one of the premier technologies for keeping us warm. The problem? Many of us don’t understand it or how it works, which means when it comes time to buy a jacket, we’re left in the dark. The tag on that jacket has a lot of numbers on it, many of which tie into how warm, compressible, and lightweight it will be while you’re wearing it or stuffing it in your pack. You just need to know how to make sense of them.

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A High Point in Warmth

Synthetic insulation seems to get better every year, but down still reigns supreme for many users, environments, and activities. Lightweight, packable, and warm are just a few of the characteristics that have kept down as the go-to insulation of outdoor adventurers for almost a century. On the 1922 Everest expedition, mountaineer George Finch drew many suspect looks from his team members for his departure from traditional tweed and wool outerwear in favor of an eiderdown-lined coat and pants with a shell made of a bright green hot-air balloon fabric. Finch would go on to climb to a height of 8,360 meters—an altitude record at the time—and set the stage for down to become the favored insulation of those who work and play in the cold.

Put simply, down is the fluffy group of soft feathers that sit between a bird’s (usually a goose or duck) outer feathers and skin. Under a microscope, the plumes are a network of tiny filaments, woven and and networked together to trap air between then—This is why down is so warm. Microscopic pockets between filaments trap body heat next to your skin.

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Not All Down is Created Equal

No down is the same, which is why we need a system to explain how warm one particular jacket is over another. We use two big metrics to sort this out: the quality of fill used, which is measured by down fill power, and the amount of insulation used, which is measured by fill weight.

Down Fill Power

Just like so many other materials, some down is a higher quality than other down. Generally speaking, the “fluffier” a plume of down is—meaning, how much loft it has—the warmer it will be, and the higher quality it will be. This is fill power.

Fill power is calculated by a lab test that determines how many cubic inches of loft a certain weight (one ounce) of down produces. The higher the number, the more loft and the warmer than down will be for its weight. For example, a down fill rating of 800 means that one ounce of down covers 800 cubic inches. In general, jackets ranging from 600- to 1,000-fill power are considered high quality.

Down Fill Weight

But remember one key piece about fill power: It measures how warm down is for its weight. If the weight of the down feathers in a jacket is equal, a jacket with higher fill power will be warmer than one with a lower fill power. But not all jackets have the same weight, which is why we also need to consider that piece of the puzzle.

Down fill weight indicates how much insulation is used in its construction. Sometimes listed in grams, other times in ounces, though often not at all (more on this ahead), the fill weight is simply the weight of the down that was used to make a jacket.

Consider the EMS Featherpack Hooded Down Jacket and the EMS Ryker Down Parka. The Featherpack Jacket is made with roughly 140 grams of 800-fill down, while the Ryker Parka is made with 300 grams of 650-fill down. Because it has more than twice the amount (or weight) of down inside, the Ryker looks much larger and will likely be warmer, even though the Featherpack uses much higher quality down. On the other hand, the Featherpack is far lighter and will compress much smaller thanks to its 800-fill down, making it a better option for weight- or pack space-conscious users. It’s easy to get lured into thinking that a jacket made with higher fill power is warmer than a jacket with a lower fill power, but that’s not always the case.

Long story short, how warm your jacket will be is a function of both fill power and down weight. A jacket with a high fill power but low down weight may not be as warm as a jacket with a high down weight and low fill power. But a high combination of both means a super warm and super light and compressible jacket.

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Putting it All Together

A challenge in choosing a down coat is to balance your need for a high fill power (lightweight and compressibility) with fill weight (warmth). This is often complicated because many manufacturers are quick to highlight fill power, but are less likely to divulge fill weight. If the fill weight of a jacket you’re interested in isn’t available, your next best option is to find one in person and compare its weight and compressibility against other jackets with known fills. If that isn’t an option either, the best you can do is look at the jacket’s total weight, account for features like pockets and zippers, along with the shell material, and then guess at the fill weight.

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Choosing a Down Jacket

Putting all this together, down jackets with high fill powers are a great choice for hikers, backcountry skiers, and ice and alpine climbers who want a puffy that provides maximum warmth while taking up a minimum of space and not weighing too much. They’re also great for those looking for a super-warm jacket that maintains a sleek cut. Conversely, those less interested in packability and compressibility—like, say, a sport climber with a short approach—might look to jackets that use down with slightly less fill power, but use more of it so that they can stay warm as they belay somebody on their project.


A Ride Fit For a President: Grant's Trip up Mount Washington

“Man looks so small against the universe,” remarked President Ulysses S. Grant as he stood atop Mount Washington in August 1869. He’d just ascended the mountain’s west side via the Cog Railway, and then strolled about the summit, smoking a cigar. Dressed in suits, top hats, and dresses, his party posed for a summit photo—the only inkling of the approaching fall chill was the blankets wrapped around the women’s shoulders. Skinning away from the Marshfield Base Station early on this mid-winter morning, it sure is a lot colder, but President Grant’s 150-year-old remark still rings true: This mountain puts things in perspective. And we have a long way to go.

President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society
President Grant (center left, holding his hat) atop Mount Washington. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Cog Railway, which we’ve come to skin and ski today, was the brainchild of New Hampshire native, Slyvester Marsh, who’d made a fortune in Chicago’s meat-packing industry before returning to his home state. After struggling to hike up Mount Washington, Marsh was inspired to build an easier way up the peak. His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon. The comment has dogged the Cog for a century and a half; You’ll still hear people call it the “railway to the moon” today.

From the Marshfield Base Station, the Cog, known in Grant’s time as the Sky Railway, ascends up the mountain between Burt and Ammonoosuc Ravines before making a gradual right turn toward the summit. President Grant ascended its 3,600 feet in elevation and roughly three miles in distance in the front of the passenger car. We don’t have that luxury—trains don’t typically run in the winter—and we’re relegated to skinning up the mountain on the open slopes on either side of the track.

His idea, however, was mocked, with one legislator responding to Marsh’s request for a charter to build the railway with a suggestion that the Legislature instead authorize him to build a railway to the moon.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

The average grade is 25 percent and drops of perspiration start to appear on our caps shortly into our climb, despite the single-digit temperatures. Still, the first 1,000 feet of elevation go quickly and in no time we’re cruising by Waumbek Tank, a water tank where Grant’s train probably paused to take on more water and coal for the steam-powered engines.

At the time of Grant’s 1869 ascent, the Cog was the world’s first cog-driven railway, employing engines with cog wheels that mesh with a toothed rail in the center of the track for propulsion up and down the steep grade. The track we’re skinning next to this morning is thus the world’s oldest cog railway—running through 28 presidencies since Grant’s.

Near treeline, our skin track shifts out and left of the track as we approach Jacob’s Ladder. A marvel of engineering both in Grant’s era and now, the tracks at Jacob’s Ladder lay at a puckering 37.4 degrees and balance on trestles 30 feet in the air. On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach. For us, the slope in the vicinity of the Ladder is the crux of the ascent, our skins searching for purchase we climb the steeps near the tracks.

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

Once above treeline, we continue along the Cog as it bends right, slowing down to take in the view. To the north and south, not much has changed since Grant’s time, with the rugged northern Presidentials running on our left and their gentler southern brethren to our right. Behind us today stands the Mount Washington Hotel—which wouldn’t be built for another 30 years after Grant’s visit—and Bretton Woods, which followed Grant by about a century. Grant would certainly have seen signs of civilization, however; logging and railroads were extremely active in the area and hiking in the Whites, especially on the Crawford Path, was rising in popularity.

On his ascent, Grant, sitting at the front of the train, would have been 14 feet higher than those in the rear of the coach.

Arriving on Mount Washington’s summit, we seek refuge from the wind behind the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and quickly dig out puffy coats, mittens, and balaclavas. Grant’s visit to Mount Washington’s summit predates the Sherman Adams building by about 110 years, but the Summit House hotel would have stood nearby. Our arrival on the peak is not met with the same fanfare as Grant’s. A cannon announced the President’s arrival on the summit and the railway’s founder, Marsh, was there to shake Grant’s hand. Between the cold and the wind, none of the few hardy souls milling about the summit this morning venture over to greet us as we transition for our ski down the mountain.

While Grant was our inspiration to come up the Cog this morning, we’re taking our descent cues from the railway’s early employees. They would descend the Cog on a slide board made of metal and wood. Called a “devil’s shingle,” the board fit into the tracks and riders descended toboggan-like using friction-inducing brake handles to control their speed. With the thin, windblown, and rocky snowpack up high, we won’t match the 60 mph speeds achieved on the contraptions, let alone the 2 minute and 45 second record-fast slide. But it does leave us wondering if this was what P.T. Barnum, another early passenger on the Cog Railway, was referring to when he described the railroad as the “second greatest show on earth.”

Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway
Courtesy: The Mount Washington Cog Railway

As we ski away from the summit and begin sliding downhill, we can only wonder what Grant thought during his descent. Maybe he was thinking back to earlier stops on his trip to New England—Newport, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire—or his night before at the Crawford House. Maybe he was thinking ahead to the tour’s next destinations—Littleton, New Hampshire, then off to Saratoga Springs, New York. Or maybe he was doing just what we’re doing now: taking in the serene beauty of the landscape as he cruised down Mount Washington.


How the Nansen Ski Club Brought Bigtime Skiing to New Hampshire

New Hampshire has long been at the forefront of skiing in the US. The state is home to the country’s first organized downhill ski race (on Mount Moosilauke), its first gondola (at Wildcat), and a staggering number of trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that have become legendary resorts like Cannon, Wildcat, and Waterville. Hidden deep in the New Hampshire’s northernmost county, Coos, far above the state’s popular ski resorts, and lost among the numerous historical firsts is the state’s oldest and longest-running contribution to the sport of skiing: the Nansen Ski Club.

Founded in Berlin, New Hampshire, in either 1872 or 1882 (sources differ on the date of the club’s origin), the Nansen Ski Club was one of the earliest ski clubs in the US and is the country’s oldest continually operating ski club. While the club’s original purpose was to facilitate enjoyment of the sport—through trail maintenance and the construction of a warming hut—little did they know their efforts would lead to Berlin becoming the cradle of ski jumping in the US, put the small city on the minds of Olympic hopefuls, and still be attracting nordic skiers nearly 150 years later.

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Fridtjof Nansen visits Berlin to meet Nansen Ski Club Members. | Courtesy: New England Historical Society

The Ski Klubben Club

Scandinavian immigrants brought skiing to Berlin, NH, and founded the Nansen Ski Club shortly thereafter. Arriving in Berlin in the 1840s and 1850s to help build the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, the immigrants settled in the area (in part due to its hospitable winter climate), finding more permanent work in logging and the city’s mills. By the early 1870s, 30 families had established themselves in Berlin’s Norway Village, an area of four streets—Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Much like the Nansen Ski Club, those streets are still around today.

During this period, the group founded the Ski Klubben in the upstairs hall of the old Berlin Mills Company Store. The club’s original intent was to foster the sport of nordic skiing and maintain a sense of pride in their home countries. Initially, membership was restricted to male residents of Norway Village, but soon after expanded to “allow any young man of good character.” The membership expansion is one of many changes over the years, most notably the club’s name. It evolved from the Ski Klubben to the Berlin Mills Ski Club to the Fridtjof Nansen Ski Club, before finally settling on the Nansen Ski Club.

The club’s namesake was Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, a famous Norwegian explorer who used cross-country skis to become the first person to traverse the Greenland Icecap. A hero to the club’s early members, Nansen would later be awarded a Nobel Prize for his aid to displaced victims of World War I. Nansen would also go onto visit his namesake club in 1929; when he arrived in Berlin, the whole city welcomed him with a parade.

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Courtesy: Coos Historical Society

The Building of “Big Nansen”

In addition to the nordic focus, club members have been building jumps in Norway Village since the club’s inception. An early jump (built in 1906) was in Paine’s Meadow, where Berlin’s Eleventh Street runs today. Jumps like this one were made by building a chute into the hill and it’s said that the Nansens attained speeds of up to 60 miles per hour before they launched into the air. In 1921, the Nansens constructed their first proper ski jump—it was 65 feet high and featured a 170-foot runout. Just six years later, in 1927, the jump was enlarged.  

In the 1930s, Nansen members constructed a world-class ski jump just north of Berlin in the small town of Milan. Using the legendary ski jumps of Europe as a model, the Nansens, along with the City of Berlin and the National Youth Administration (a New Deal program providing work and education for Americans aged 16 to 25), built the highest ski jump in the US. Fondly called “Big Nansen,” the jump towered 171 feet above the ground with a descent angle of roughly 37.5 degrees and a 312-foot runout.

For approximately 50 years, Big Nansen was the foremost ski jump in the country. Shortly after its completion in 1938, the first Olympic trials were held there, with 25,000 spectators—more than double the Berlin’s current population—watching jumpers launch off Big Nansen. The jump went on to host the United States Ski Jumping National Championships in 1940, 1957, 1965, and 1972.

A host of factors led to the decline of Big Nansen—an accident in the 1970s that paralyzed a skier put a dark veil over the jump, while the volunteers responsible for the events aged. Additionally, professional skiers were seeking more modern jumps. In 1985, the last skier flew from Big Nansen and the jump officially closed in 1988, falling into disrepair thereafter. Big Nansen has since been designated a National Historic Site and efforts to restore it, revitalize youth ski jumping in the area, and host competitions are underway. These initiatives got a big boost when Olympian (and Red Bull athlete) Sarah Hendrickson flew from Big Nansen.

The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH
The ski jump today. | Courtesy: MrBerlin NH

Ski it for Yourself

Part of New Hampshire’s State Parks, you can visit the jump today. As work continues, the Nansens’ Nordic heritage is still going strong, with over 300km of groomed cross-country ski trails in Milan. The foundational Nansen trails were built by John Morton, a two-time Olympian cross-country biathlon skier and professional trail designer.

The Nansen trail system accommodates skiers of all abilities and allows animals (provided they’re leashed and under control). The trails are groomed by volunteers and a warming hut is available to members anytime (non-members are welcome to visit the hut when a volunteer hut host is onsite—which includes most winter weekends).

The Nansen cross-country ski trails are located a short drive from Gorham and about 30 minutes north of Pinkham Notch on Route 16. Club members have access to the club’s “Ski & Snowshoe Equipment Locker” which includes the free use of skis, poles, boots, and snowshoes. If you don’t have your own gear and you’re traveling from the south, there are numerous places to rent Nordic gear on the way, including Eastern Mountain Sports’ North Conway store. Go visit!


It Can't Happen Here: 12 Myths About Northeast Avalanches

Many people believe that avalanches are a problem reserved for skiers and climbers recreating “out west.” However, unstable snowpacks and avy-prone slopes can be found throughout the East Coast’s mountain ranges. Read on for why you should be upping your avalanche awareness this winter.

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1. Myth: Avalanches Only Happen in the Presidentials

In 2018, Aaron Rice (the skier who famously climbed and skied 2.5 million vertical feet in 2016), triggered an avalanche in Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch. Just days later, six soldiers in the Vermont National Guard were caught in a slide. In February of that same year, a skier was buried up to their waist in an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Stories abound about recreationalists getting caught in avalanches in the Northeast, inside and out of the Whites. Here’s one about Trap Dike. And here’s another tidbit about two other avalanches in the ’Daks in February 2019. Just because you’re not in Tuckerman Ravine doesn’t mean you should let your guard down.

2. Myth: East Coast Avalanches Aren’t Fatal

The East Coast makes up only a small percentage of the fatalities caused by avalanches nationwide. With that said, even one death is too many. The past decade has seen two avalanche-caused fatalities in the East: one was a skier descending Raymond Cataract and the other was a climber in Pinnacle Gully. The right terrain (which the East has plenty of), plus the right snow conditions (which we also get), mixed with a lack of education and bad luck can definitely be fatal.

3. Myth: Eastern Avalanches are Only Deadly to Those Out Alone 

Although only solo travelers have been the victims of deadly avalanches on the East Coast in recent years, groups have not escaped fatalities resulting from avalanches. In 1996, two skiers were killed by an avalanche in Mount Washington’s Gulf of Slides. In 2000, one skier was killed and three others buried by an avalanche on Wright Peak in the Adirondacks. Groups are no less likely to cause avalanches, but if the members of a group are well-trained, they have the ability to rescue a buried friend. Soloists have no such luxury.

Credit: Jamie Walter
Credit: Jamie Walter

4. Myth: I’m With A Guide, It’s All Good 

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, avalanche professionals are far less likely to perish in an avalanche when compared to other users—less than 1 percent of all avalanche fatalities involve avalanche professionals. Having said that, a popular saying is that the avalanche does not know you are an expert! Last year, two AIARE certified Level 3s and one AIARE certified Pro 1 were caught in a slide in Oakes Gulf. Everyone makes mistakes and must practice the same good decision making.

5. Myth: I’m Experienced, I’ve Planned Well, I’m Safe

John Steinbeck said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is especially true with avalanches on the East Coast. You can take all the AIARE classes, read the avalanche reports, and have years of experience in avalanche terrain and still get caught just like the Ski The East team did on a trip to the Chic-Chocs. Vigilance is equally important at all experience levels.

6. Myth: Accidents Only Catch Unlucky Skiers and Climbers 

There are a lot of things in life outside of our control, but more often than not getting caught in an avalanche isn’t the result of bad luck. More than 90 percent of avalanche accidents are triggered either by the victim or someone in the victim’s party, and most could have been avoided by better decision making.

7. Myth: The East’s Comparatively Minute Snowpack Makes Avalanches Less Deadly

The East Coast may not have the dense snowpack of the west, but we do have an abundance of trees and rocks. While asphyxia is the primary cause of death of avalanche victims, trauma accounts for about a quarter of avalanche fatalities.

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8. Myth: Mount Washington Is Home to the Only Avalanche Center East of the Rockies

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center is the only US avalanche center east of the Rockies, but it’s not the only avalanche center in the Northeast. As anyone who’s visited the powder playground above the US border knows, Avalanche Quebec provides forecasts for the Chic-Chocs and has the distinction of being the only avalanche center east of the Rockies in Canada. But as we’ve seen, just because someplace like the Adirondacks or Green Mountains doesn’t have an avalanche center, doesn’t mean they are immune to avalanches. It just means you’re going to need to use your own judgement.

9. Myth: “Everything Will Be Fine, We’re On An Established Hiking Trail” 

Trails that seem simple in the summer, can be more complicated in the winter. Even if they don’t cross an avalanche path directly, they may sit below one, or travel in a gully or other terrain trap. Some trails, like the route up Lion Head on Mount Washington, transition to a winter route when the summer route is deemed to be too risky. But if you’re traveling the summer route before the switch is made, make good decisions.

That being said, as one university outing group recently found out the hard way, it’s easy to get off trail in the winter and stumble into avalanche terrain, even on the Lion Head Winter Route. Their adventures are touched on toward the end of these reports (1, 2) from the MWAC.

10. Myth: Avalanches Strike Without Warning 

The vast majority of avalanches provide warning signs well before they slide—cracks forming around your foot or ski as you move through the snow, a “whumping” sound coming from the snowpack, and signs of recent avvy activity all are indicators of avalanche potential (though you may only have seconds warning in some cases). So, too, are recent snowfall and visible plumes of blowing snow (which is a sign that the areas where the snow stops are loading up). Learn to recognize the signs by taking an American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) class.

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11. Myth: Packing an Avalanche Beacon, Probe, and Shovel Makes You Safe

Avalanche tools such as a beacon, probe, and shovel go a long way toward increasing your safety in avalanche terrain; however, a tool is only as good as the person wielding it. Studies show that 93% of avalanche victims are recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes of burial, but the likelihood of survival diminishes significantly after that. The safest bet is to avoid getting buried, but practicing and familiarizing yourself with your beacon, probe, and shovel can mean the difference between life and death. Again, taking an AIARE class includes education for using these tools.

12. Myth: Ice Climbers are Safe if They’re Not Climbing in the Ravines

Popular ice climbing destinations like Shoestring Gully, Willeys Slide, and Mount Willard’s South Face have all avalanched in the past. So have some of the longer gullies on Mount Webster. Looking for an example? Check out S. Peter Lewis’ and Dave Horowitz’s recounting of one such avalanche on Mount Willard’s Cinema Gully in their classic Selected Climbs in the Northeast. Fortunately for them, everything turned out okay.

 

Hopefully that busts a few East Coast myths for you. When you’re out in the field this winter, keep an eye out for red flags like recent snowfall, signs of snowpack instability (whumping, collapsing, and shooting cracks), rapid warming, wind loading, and signs of recent avalanches. And take an AIARE class from EMS Schools to get you up to speed on safe decision making in avalanche terrain. You may not have realized how much we have in the East.


15 Types of Skiers You'll Meet on the Mountain

One of the great things about skiing is the many different types of people who enjoy the sport. Whether you’re chasing first tracks or closing the bar, you’ve likely stumbled into one of these skiers before. Remember: if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Backcountry Skiing

1. Powder Hounds

Perpetually on the search for first tracks and deep snow, Powder Hounds live to spend winter in the white room—the feeling of getting totally encompassed in snow while skiing powder. Easily identifiable by their super-wide skis, action cams, and snow-encrusted smiles, you’ll often encounter Powder Hounds speaking in hushed tones about their secret stashes.

2. Park Rats 

You’re just as likely to see a Park Rat sliding on rails, boxes, or flying in the air as you are to witness them sliding on the snow. Fueled by Red Bull and Monster energy drinks, on the rare occasion when Park Rats aren’t blasting music through their headphones, they’re communicating with an ever-evolving language that only loosely resembles English.

3. Après Enthusiasts

As the name implies, the Après Enthusiast is more interested in what happens after skiing rather than during skiing, and is more likely to be seen dancing on the bar than skiing on the slopes—because of this, you’ll rarely encounter them before noon. Gear is secondary for Après Enthusiasts, with the exception of their shot ski (which was handcrafted).

4. Snow Bunnies

Snow Bunnies are more concerned with looking good than skiing well. Lift tickets are just an accessory for a Snow Bunny; Despite the triple-digit expense of a day pass, you won’t see them on the slopes—although they might ride the lift for lunch at the restaurant on the summit.

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5. Old Schoolers

Sporting straight skis, sunglasses, and no helmet or hat, you’ll find Old Schoolers teaching a masters class on why gear doesn’t translate to skill or enjoyment. Styling runs on skis older than you while wearing a jacket that wasn’t all that warm or waterproof when it was bought 20 years ago, much less now, old-school skiers are as stoked today as they were when they first skied that run decades earlier.

6. Wannabe Racers

Aero helmets, skin-tight suits, and race skis, oh my. You’ll encounter Wannabe Racers all over the mountain, chattering about everything from how fast they were/are in high school/college/NASTAR or the latest tune they just gave their skis. From ski tucking down cruisers to slaloming through make-believe gates, these skiers are frequently found immersed in competition against an imaginary Bode Miller, Lyndsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, or Mikaela Shiffrin. Look for them in deep discussion about camber at the mountain’s shop.

7. Gapers 

Gapers go by a host of names, such as “Jerries” or “Joeys.” An interesting species of skier, gapers are totally clueless to the rules, but are totally dialed in their own minds. Known for their  namesake gap—the space between a skier’s helmet and their goggles—Jerries are also often spotted skiing in jeans, carrying their skis strangely, and yard sailing over the mountain.

8. First Timers

Awkwardly walking across the lodge, causing pile-ups getting onto (and off of) the lift, and performing top-to-bottom snow plows are first-time skiers. Recognized by their rental equipment, First Timers are hopefully spotted hanging around the ski school or accompanied by an instructor, but have an unfortunate tendency to stray into expert terrain unsupervised.

Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl
Courtesy of Camden Snow Bowl

9. Gear Obsessed

Sure skiing is fun, but it’s even more fun if the rocker profile of your ski is perfectly matched to conditions, your boots have been custom molded, and your layers are working in unison to keep you perfectly insulated. Gear-Obsessed skiers are interested more in ski equipment than they are the sport itself.

10. Lodge Loungers

Gunning for likes on Instagram, you’ll find Lodge Loungers at tables in the lodge, eyes glued to a screen, posting about their latest epic descent. Although they may congregate indoors with park rats, you can pick these teens out by the heaping plates of chicken fingers and fries they’re consuming in the moments they can glance away from their screen.

11. Disgruntled Dads

These Dads didn’t sign their first-timer kids up for lessons and now they are paying the price. Easily found in three places: in the rental shop struggling to get boots on their kids, on the bunny hill with a kid on the ground having a temper tantrum, and in the lodge helping “the fam” warm up with some hot chocolate. Although they may lighten up come Après Hour, do yourself a favor and give Disgruntled Dads a wide berth on the slopes.

12. The Beverage Smugglers

Undeterred by signs prohibiting “off-premises” beverages, these hardly souls recognize that “après” only means “after” in France. The best Beverage Smugglers can be found carrying Northeast classics like Tree House and Alchemist. Probably a millennial, but worth befriending—hopefully they’ll share a can (or two) with you in the lodge.

After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Lounge. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain
After-ski drinks in the Paul Bunyan Lounge. | Courtesy: Loon Mountain

13. College Bros

Frequenting events like Reggae Fest, retro day, and the pond skim, College Bros appear at Northeast resorts in March during “Spring Break.” They travel in oversized packs with nicknames like “Crew 22.” They’re definitely staying at somebody’s parents’ slopeside condo and may have some aspiring Beverage Smugglers in the group.

14. Kid Crushers

These mini shredders’ parents have had them on skis and in lessons since before they could even walk—and it shows. Kid Crushers are found everywhere from the park to the race course to the trees and, despite not being tall enough to ride a roller coaster, they’ve turned the entire mountain into an amusement park. May become Wannabe Racers, or Park Rats as they get older.

16. Ski Patrollers

Also known as “Red Jackets.” Occasionally spotted skiing, but typically only to migrate between the “Patrol Shack” near the top of the mountain and the “Patrol Room” at the bottom. Prefer hard, icy terrain and rescuing First Timers. Will sometimes be observed “in discussion” with Park Rats and Wannabe Racers.

Warren Miller said, “Don’t take life too seriously, because you can’t come out of it alive.” Whether you’re a Jerry, a Powder Hound, or an Old Schooler have a great ski season.


Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!


52 goEast Resolutions for 52 Weeks of 2020

With the new year approaching, it’s time to start looking ahead and planning our next outdoor adventures. With that in mind, we’ve gathered some of our favorite articles from the past year to put together the ultimate outdoor-focused list of New Year’s resolutions. Put these ideas on your to-do list for 2020.

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Winter 2020

  1. Ski the wrong way (or is it the right way?) and go uphill at the resort.
  2. Get a great night’s sleep in Siberian-like weather.
  3. Spark joy by getting organized.
  4. Explore an abandoned ski resort—on skis.
  5. GBA: Granite Backcountry Alliance or Great Backcountry Areas? You decide.
  6. Sharpen your skills on some easy ice climbs.
  7. Brush up on these basics before tackling the Rockpile.
  8. Sleep in the snow like a star.
  9. Ski Tuckerman Ravine like a guide.
  10. Take your hiking above the trees.
  11. Don’t let winter keep your four-legged friends from hiking.
  12. Keep your puffy looking pristine.
  13. Get on New York’s super-highway of skiing.

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Spring 2020

  1. Cook up some haute cuisine on an early season camping trip.
  2. Paddle to a sweet campsite for you and your kayak.
  3. Kick off hiking season on Cape Cod.
  4. Enjoy the ultimate pairing of recreation and relaxation: bikes and brews.
  5. Send in the Gunks like a guide.
  6. Break in your camping gear on these early season overnighters.
  7. Lay low this mud season.
  8. No joking matter, stay safe on April Fools Day.
  9. Don’t dirty the reputation of hikers, play properly in the mud.
  10. Get out of the rock gym and climb outside!
  11. Go on a hike that everyone will enjoy.
  12. Perfect your picture taking and add some action shots to your Insta account.
  13. Get down and dirty trail running.

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Summer 2020

  1. Add a pitch of paddling to your rock climbing.
  2. Take your running off road.
  3. Develop your dirtbag skills and learn how to find free car camping.
  4. Slide into summer on this off-the-beaten-path adventure climb.
  5. Hike the White Mountains’ most historic trail.
  6. Beat the heat and find cool climbing at warm-weather destinations.
  7. Style singletrack this summer.
  8. A trip with “great” in its name is a trip worth taking.
  9. Hunt for history in New Hampshire’s Presidentials.
  10. Take a short paddle on the longest canoe trip in the Northeast.
  11. Go on a multi-sport adventure across the Empire State.
  12. Storm the Adirondacks and hike a hurricane.
  13. Run Rhode Island, along the City by the Sea’s coastline.

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Fall 2020

  1. Visit New England’s neighbor to the north.
  2. Peep these trails and avoid Franconia Notch’s busy parking lots.
  3. Get the beta on building a rack and gear up for Sendtember and Rocktober.
  4. Step up your hiking on Acadia’s legendary ladder trails.
  5. Go fast and light this fall.
  6. Don’t let these simple mistakes keep you from sending.
  7. The only thing frightening about this New Hampshire ghost town is that you haven’t visited.
  8. Find heaven and hell on the Catskill’s most challenging trail.
  9. Step away from the NH48 and hike one of these 4,000-footers that didn’t make the cut.
  10. Break away from the grind on one of these shorter thru-hikes
  11. Or, go for a long paddle
  12. Or, take an even longer long road trip.
  13. Just remember, you’re never too old for adventure.

 

Of course, this list is just a starting point. If you need even more inspiration, you’ll find 52 more adventures on our 2019 list, and 52 more on our 2018 list.


10 Tips for Staying Warm While Backcountry Skiing

It gets cold in the Northeast. Unbearably cold, sometimes. But low temps shouldn’t be an excuse for missing that next backcountry powder day. Read on for 10 tips for staying warm this winter while backcountry skiing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Don’t Dawdle in the Parking Lot

Arrive ready to go—dressed, skins on, and fully packed—so that you can jump right out of the car onto the skin track. Screwing around in the parking lot ensures you’ll start your tour off too cold.

2. Start a Little Cold

Starting overdressed is a certain way to overheat, guaranteeing damp baselayers for the rest of the tour. It also ensures that 10 to 15 minutes into the day, you’ll need to stop and de-layer, starting a cycle of body temperature fluctuations that are difficult to manage.

3. Timely Layering

Everybody knows that layering is key to staying warm in the backcountry. But an underrated aspect of this process is knowing where and when to add or subtract a layer. For example, on the steep climb up a Tuck’s gully, don’t wait until you’re already roasting from the climb to shed that outer layer. Likewise, on something like Mount Moosilauke, which has a lengthy above-tree line segment, pause below treeline to add appropriate gear before venturing into the cold, windy terrain above.

4. Lots of Lightweight Layers

Instead of carrying a few heavy layers, carrying a variety of lightweight layers allow greater adaptability to conditions. For example, carrying two lightweight puffies instead of a single heavy one is a favorite backcountry ski trick, especially if one of those puffies is made with active insulation. On particularly cold days, this allows you to wear a puffy in the skin track or slide it under your shell on the descent, rather than reserving it for transitions.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Pack for Success

Pack the layers you’ll use most often near the top of your bag so the whole group doesn’t have to pause while you dig that critical piece out of the bottom of your pack. Likewise, stash essentials like gels, a hat, and a buff in your pockets—this way you can get an energy boost and warm up on the move, without stopping to take off your pack.

6. Plan Group Breaks

Instead of everybody on the tour taking haphazard breaks, get the group on board with regular group breaks—we like to plan hourly breaks or at obvious transitions (up/down or significant terrain changes). This is a great way to improve group efficiency and keep everybody moving and warm.

7. Fuel Up

It’s difficult to stay properly fueled in the winter—you burn more calories, you don’t realize how much you’re perspiring, and you lose fluid through respiration. Dehydration + hunger is a certain recipe for getting cold, so make sure to eat and drink at every break to keep the furnace burning and the stoke high.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Some Like it Hot 

Water not cutting it or freezing in your bottle? Try a thermos filled with a hot drink—it’s one of our favorite mid-outing pick-me-ups. Store your drink of choice in a Hydro Flask so that it’s hot when you want it. Likewise, a sippable soup in an insulated container is a lot more appealing than a frozen Snickers bar.

9. Do Your Homework

Pick the right tour for the forecast and snowpack, then research your route so you’ll stay on track. (Looking for more ski touring tips? Check out What Guides Think About Before Ski Touring in Tuckerman Ravine.) For example, there’s no need to sit on the couch because it’s freezing in the Presidentials; some great cold-weather options are Mount Cardigan and Granite Backcountry Alliance glades like Maple Villa and Crescent Ridge. They’re all at much lower elevations and minimize wind chills by staying mostly in the trees.

10. Pack a Dry Set of Clothes for the Ride Home

There’s nothing worse than driving home in damp baselayers. Ever so slowly, that dampness sucks out your energy, delaying your recovery for tomorrow’s powder day. Whenever you finish your tour, change into a dry set of clothes right away.

Do you have any tricks for staying warm while ski touring? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below, so we can all stay warm this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck