How to Choose Your Avalanche Safety Kit

There is nothing quite like the feeling of skiing fresh, untracked snow out in the wilderness after hours of hiking and toil, with no crowds or civilization in sight. This is the bliss of backcountry skiing, and while there are countless reasons why it is great, there are also considerations to be made in order to manage the increased risk of travel in potential avalanche terrain. Avalanches are serious hazards, and each year more and more accidents occur as more people venture out away from resorts into uncontrolled terrain.

Anyone who travels in avalanche terrain should consider taking avalanche equipment with them. This is not just limited to skiers and snowboarders, but any sort of users that find themselves in these areas. It is important that you have the proper equipment, not just to manage risk for yourself and your party, but also in case another person or group needs help.

The avalanche safety kit may have many pieces, all of which warrant discussion, but there are a universal three: a transceiver, a shovel, and a probe.

This article is by no means a replacement for instruction or education concerning avalanche rescue. Seek qualified instruction and training! Buying and having this equipment is one thing, but being able to use it correctly and effectively is entirely another.

Courtesy: Pieps
Courtesy: Pieps

Avalanche Transceivers

Your avalanche transceiver (also known as a beacon) is the most complex, varied, and expensive part of your avalanche kit. It is essentially a small two-way radio transmitter that works by generating signal pulses, which can be picked up by other transceivers in a different mode. The beacons have a handful of methods to lead rescuers to a buried victim. Generally, these are slightly smaller than your average PB&J sandwich and are carried either in a harness close to the chest or in specific “beacon pockets” that can be found in some ski and climbing apparel. Transceivers have been around since the 1960s, and decades of research and refinement make us lucky to have these advanced tools at our disposal. All transceivers on the market use a common signal frequency (457kHz), so no matter which model or brand you go with, every device is compatible with every other device.

Almost all avalanche transceivers on the market today (excluding some outliers) are three-antenna transceivers. Historically, transceivers have used two or even one antenna, and these are now defunct. Having two or fewer means that in certain orientations, the signal from a buried person’s beacon would not be intercepted by rescuers. Use caution if buying older transceivers, and make sure to check each unit.

Digital vs. Analog

These days, most transceivers on the market are digital, meaning they use a microprocessor to interpret incoming signals. This means the display is updated more quickly when searching for a signal. Analog transceivers are the original technology, and while the search range can be greater, these are more difficult to use. Some models are able to use both technologies in conjunction depending on the situation. Generally, transceivers in today’s market have quite varied effective ranges, generally between 40 and 70 meters, depending on brand and the technology that they use. The longer a beacon’s range, the further away from a victim you can be before beginning to pick up their signal, making searches faster and easier.

Features

There are many helpful features available on modern avalanche transceivers, without being simply bells and whistles. Most commonly you’ll find directional indicators on an LCD screen on the device, to be used in addition to auditory signals. These displays look different for each transceiver, so take time to find one that makes sense to you and learn how to read it quickly. Generally you will see a combination of directional arrows and distance in meters, both designed to help you narrow in on the buried beacon. Another common feature is a “flagging” feature, which in multiple-burial situations (when you’re looking for more than one person) allows you to intentionally block the signal from a victim that you have already found, to focus your device on the other buried transceiver. Different manufacturers also build in some of their own features to devices, like Bluetooth capabilities.

Pricing

As mentioned above, avalanche transceivers are the most expensive piece of the kit. Prices vary from around $250 to $500, accounting for differences in features and performance. While not every user needs the top of the line beacon, these are one life-saving piece of gear and are always money well spent. Have a good one that you trust with you or a friend’s life.

Courtesy: Pieps
Courtesy: Pieps

Avalanche Shovel

While it may benefit you to shave weight in other places in your kit, your shovel should be able to handle whatever you throw at it without failing. You will be shoveling like a mad person in a rescue, and worrying about your shovel’s durability shouldn’t be on your mind.

Materials

Avalanche shovels can be found using steel, aluminum, and plastic in their construction. In general, the shaft of the shovel will be aluminum, the handle will be plastic, and the blade should be metal. Plastic blades, while being the lightest option and may be good for digging out your car or building a snow fort, is much more likely to break when chopping and moving avalanche debris, and should be avoided in the backcountry.

The size of the blade will also affect how the shovel performs: A larger blade means you can move more snow at one time; However, it will be harder to fit into a backpack. The blades on the market have slightly different shapes to them, and it’s worth investigating what you like.

Handle

There are a variety of shovel handles out there, including D-grip, T-grip, and L-grip. There are pros and cons with each type.

The D-grip is your classic shovel handle like you’d find on a driveway shovel. These give you the best grip and offer the best leverage for using the shovel, especially with big gloves or mittens. However, it is larger, and also possible to break off the handle (being plastic).

The T-grip is very popular as well. It is simple, low profile, and very hard to break, although using it with mittens is trickier.

The L-grip and other special case handles you may find are less popular, but the L-grip will perform similarly to the T-grip, with a little more to hold onto. Try out a couple different types (with gloves/mittens) to see what you like.

Shaft

Shovels these days are pretty similar across the board when it comes to the shaft. In general, you’ll have an aluminum construction, with an extendable, telescoping adjustment. The shape of the shaft (round, rectangular, etc.) is more of a personal preference than anything. You will come across shovels with fixed or removable shafts, meaning you can or cannot separate the blade from the shaft and handle. Fixed construction is stronger, but a separating shovel will fit into a smaller package. Longer shafts will mean more leverage and perhaps increased performance, but it will be harder to fit in your backpack as well.

Features

Some shovels have extra features that can be rather helpful as well, but keep it simple! There are a couple models out that allow you to change the orientation of the shaft and blade from a “shovel” mode into a “hoe” mode, which can be quite helpful when used correctly. Some of these have extra little handles close to the blade for bonus control.

Courtesy: Pieps
Courtesy: Pieps

Avalanche Probe

The avalanche probe is used primarily for finding your buried person once you’ve narrowed in your transceiver search. These are all pretty simple and light, but be careful that yours will hold up to the rigors of use, and practice deploying and using your probe plenty before you need it.

Materials

Probes on the market will almost exclusively be either made of aluminum or carbon fiber, although steel probes can be found as well. The latter tend to only be used by professionals because of how robust steel is. For the layperson, aluminum is the most popular given its balance of weight and durability (and price). Carbon fiber is the lightest, saved for the gram-counting high-end athletes. Carbon fiber can splinter and break so one should use caution if using a carbon probe.

Length

Avalanche probes are available in a plethora of sizes, ranging from 2 to more than 3 meters in length, and tend to be measured in centimeters. Common sizes include 240, 280, and 320cm. The size you want depends on where you are and the size of the snowpack you’re operating in. In the Northeast, you will almost never need a 320cm probe, as this area simply doesn’t get that amount of snow. If you were traveling in the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia, 240cm may not be sufficient, as they have very deep snowpacks. It’s best to study up on where you will be going to educate your decision.

Features

Probes are simple pieces of gear in general, but there are still small differences that can feel important to certain users. Some probes have printed-on graduations, which can be bright and obvious at first, but later may fade or be worn off from use. Other manufacturers have started laser engraving the graduations to eliminate that problem, at a higher cost. The most variable feature of probes on the market will be the lockout mechanism. This can be a mechanical lock, a special tie-off, or some plastic snaps. Find something that couldn’t loosen itself when in use and it easy for you to use.

EMS -Winter-Ski Mistaya Lodge -3734

Additional Avalanche Gear

While the beacon, shovel, an probe make up the essential triad of avalanche safety and are the three items you should always have when traveling in avalanche terrain, there are other items that can play a key role in snow and avalanche safety that might also be a good idea to think about purchasing and bringing along.

RECCO

This technology works by using a detecting device to send out a concentrated radio signal until a separate reflector bounces the signal back to the detector when hit. These reflectors are woven into various pieces of outerwear and other gear. A rescuer using the detector can locate a buried person wearing RECCO reflectors similarly to a transceiver search. Something to note is that RECCO detectors are large and very expensive, meaning they are almost exclusively used by ski patrollers in resorts, or from helicopters, and therefore should never be relied upon in place of an avalanche transceiver, but can be a nice feature for inbounds skiers.

Airbag

Avalanche airbag systems are a newer player in the game, and have proven to be valuable if you’re caught in a slide. They work by keeping you closer to the surface of an avalanche once inflated, which hopefully means you either get found sooner or are only partially buried. They come with special backpacks or can be attached to specific backpack models. These systems are very expensive, sometimes hard to travel with, and manufacturers are still ironing out all the details.

Courtesy: Backcountry Access
Courtesy: Backcountry Access

Avalung

Another crafty piece of avalanche tech, the Black Diamond Avalung system, has been proven to significantly extend the amount of time you can breathe while buried in snow. It is basically a snorkel that allows you to inhale oxygen from in front of your face and exhale carbon dioxide from your back. The downside is that per manufacturer’s specifications, you should already have it in your mouth when an avalanche occurs (Because you may not be able to find it while being carried, and once the avalanche is over, it’s likely impossible to get it in your mouth), and it can be quite cumbersome.

Communication

In any emergency, it is crucial to have the option of calling for help if you need to. This becomes increasingly difficult in the backcountry, where most avalanches occur, so the communication systems that you use must be an integral part of your rescue kit. While cell phone service may be available in many remote places these days, it cannot be entirely relied upon. This is where special devices such as the Garmin inReach come into play. Radios and satellite phones can also be helpful when used correctly. Do your research on what kind of device fits your needs, and become an adept user before you need to.

Helmet

A large number of avalanche injuries and fatalities, especially in places like the Northeast which has a thinner snowpack, are trauma-based injuries. A simple ski helmet may be one of the biggest life-savers if you’re ever caught in an avalanche.

TK_EMS-Conway-7946


Sunday Sanctuary

The alarm wakes me to the grey light of early morning. I slide out of bed and pull on my long underwear in the coolness of our bedroom. I try to be quiet, thinking that I don’t want to wake anyone. When I reach the foot of the stairs I hear my husband telling my son the time. It is 6 am on a winter Sunday. We are up this early because we are skiers and this is our day to head to the mountain. In the kitchen, I set the coffee to brew then pack our lunches. The guys make it to living room where the boy wraps himself in blankets on the couch as my husband arranges his clothes. A younger version of myself would not have done this: set the alarm on a weekend in advance of heading into the cold. A younger version of myself would not recognize that I am, in part, someone who regularly makes time to be outside in any season.

Courtesy: Ruth Hartnup
Courtesy: Ruth Hartnup

My husband joins me in the kitchen. We stand at the counter drinking our coffee in silence. Outside, the sky lightens.  There’s no need to check the weather. Skiing happens every weekend from Christmas break until the end of the season. It’s just what we do.  When I was younger I’d been a fickle skier at best, taking it up and giving it up in equal measure. By the time I met my husband, I’d discovered the outdoors. A few trips out west and skiing with a group of women changed the notions I had about my capabilities and interests. It then made sense when our son came along that we’d get him on the mountain. Lessons were on Sunday mornings, giving us time to ski on our own. We kept that date, now skiing as a family.

When I reach the foot of the stairs I hear my husband telling my son the time. It is 6 am on a winter Sunday.

We’ve learned that the less we have to do in the morning, the easier it is to get out of the house. Some time on Saturday we packed the skis. Breakfast is quick, then we all gather in the living room to check bags, put on travel layers, and divvy up the loads to take to the car. We let the quiet of Sunday morning resume as the drive takes us on empty back roads, past houses still dark. In the valley below the mountain that the traffic picks up. We pass the glowing convenience store, cars with ski racks filling its lot.  But we’re still ahead of most people. In fact, as we drive into the ski area parking lot, we’re directed by the attendants toward the front.

Arriving even a half hour before most people reduces the frustration of skiing on a weekend. The walk to the lodge is a quick one and only a dozen or more people are getting dressed as we easily find a place to do the same. We all talk in low tones, moving with a deliberate efficiency. The best part about being outside in winter is the calm quiet that permeates and settles over everything. This exists on a ski mountain, but you have to be early to catch it.

Courtesy: Ruth Hartnup
Courtesy: Ruth Hartnup

Once outside we make the longest walk of the day, the first trek up to the lift line. We sweat a little carrying our gear and for a moment we wonder if this is really worth it. There’s no lift line. We pop our skis on and clamber into the chair. The chill doesn’t catch us and when we are settled and moving up the mountain, we relax. We take a couple of deep breaths. It’s beautiful, no matter which way you see it. The sky. The trees. The cold air moving around us.  At the trailhead we decide on the route down, then push off, leaving our first tracks of the day.

A decade, or more, ago, I would have never envisioned doing this. Having a family and being deliberate about how we want to raise our son and spend our time requires thoughtfulness. We ski in most conditions. We make it to lunch, or long after. Every week it’s the same and every week it’s different. We’ve learned how to work a good routine. We’ve made it a practice, which has made finding our way outside on the regular is easy to do.


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.

New-England-Skiiing
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!


10 Backcountry Ski Tools for the Tech-Savvy

Whether it’s avalanche airbags, magnetic goggle lenses, or shred-recording apps, technology is revolutionizing backcountry ski gear. With Cyber Monday upon us, here are 10 favorite tech pieces likely to be working their way into your backcountry kit in the near future.

Courtesy: SPOT
Courtesy: SPOT

1. SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

Whether you’re day tripping in Tuckerman Ravine or on a multi-day tour in the Chic Chocs, the pocket-sized SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger is a standalone device (meaning it works independently of your mobile phone) with its own dedicated phone number that allows you to send messages, post to social media, send out an SOS, along with a host of other neat features.

2. Pieps iProbe II

Every second counts after an avalanche, especially if somebody is buried. The Pieps iProbe II works in coordination with a beacon to speed up searches and find burial victims faster using audio and visual cues. When deployed, the probe automatically turns itself on to narrow down burial sites—beeping and lighting up as you get closer to a buried transceiver.

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Credit: Smith

 

3. Smith I/O Mag Goggles

Awesome optics, huge field of vision, and multiple lens options have made Smith I/O goggles a long-time part of our ski kits. Although interchangeable lenses are nothing new to ski goggles, Smith’s I/O Mag goggles up the ante. Taking advantage of magnetic locking mechanisms on the lens, swapping lenses is easier than ever and fingerprints obstructing your view are a thing of the past.

4. Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack 

At first sight, the flux capacitor on the Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack seemed straight out of the future. On closer inspection, it’s a supercapacitor, but that doesn’t make it any less wow-worthy. Unlike traditional and lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors can be taken on planes with no restrictions, are not sensitive to changes in temperature, and last for 500,000 charging cycles. Don’t you wish the rechargeable batteries in your headlamp would last that long?

5. DPS Phantom Wax 

Waxing skis or taking them to the shop to get tuned has long been an annoyance to skiers more interested in nabbing runs than scraping wax. DPS Phantom Wax needs only a single application to deliver a permanent solution for keeping your skis sliding. Unlike traditional ski waxes, Phantom Wax changes the chemical composition of your ski’s base, eliminating the need for regular reapplications.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

6. Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon

Black Diamond’s first foray into avalanche beacons has us thinking that it’s time to upgrade. The Guide BT (the BT stands for Bluetooth) is able to update its software, alter the beacon’s settings, and manage its battery all through an app accessed via your smartphone or tablet.

7. Salomon Shift Bindings 

A binding capable of delivering the performance of an alpine binding with the uphill ability of a backcountry binding has been something that ski-tourers everywhere have been dreaming of for years. Enter the Salomon Shift, which offers a fully certified alpine mode for downhill charging and pin-type toe for touring efficiency. This binding rips on and off piste and is a great option for skiers looking for a “quiver of one” binding.

8. The North Face Futurelight Fabric

Skiers are always on the lookout for layers that will keep them dry when it’s wet, breathe when they’re working hard, and keep them warm when it’s cold. Enter Futurelight, manufactured using a process called nanospinning—in which a fibrous material is extruded and repeatedly layered on itself into an ultra-thin and flexible web-like structure—to create thinner, more breathable, waterproof membranes. Proven to be up to the task of the most serious ski missions, Hilaree Nelson (O’Neill) and Jim Morrison put Futurelight to the test on their first ski descent of Lhotse Couloir.

9. Ski Tracks App

99 cents won’t buy you much at even the most budget-conscious ski resort these days. However, for less than a dollar, the Ski Tracks app will track just how much value you squeezed out of that three-figure lift pass. Working with your smartphone, the Ski Tracks app records metrics such as maximum speed, number of runs, distance skied, and total vertical. Don’t forget to thank us the next time you’re boasting about how much vertical you shredded.

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10. PeakFinder App

After years of arguing over which mountains are in the distance, the PeakFinder app is making it easy to know the answer without having to dig out a map. Using augmented reality, the Peakfinder app turns your phone into a directory of surrounding peaks and quickly displays the names of the mountains and peaks your looking at. Best of all, it even works when you’re offline!

 

Is there a piece of ski tech you’re particularly excited about this season? If so, let us know about it in the comments below.


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Ski season ‘aint over yet…if you have a blimp at your disposal.


The Forest through the Trees: Skiing the GBA’s Glades

If you haven’t skied any of the Granite Backcountry Alliance’s new glades in New Hampshire’s White Mountains yet, you’re missing out. Formed in 2016, the GBA’s mission is to provide low-impact human-powered backcountry skiing opportunities to the public through the creation, improvement, and maintenance of ski glades in New Hampshire and Western Maine. Working in partnerships with public and private landowners, the GBA has so far established five glades, with more on the horizon. Want to sample the GBA’s handiwork? Keep reading for the beta on a few of their most recent projects.

Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing the trees on Bill Hill. | Credit: Tim Peck

Great Glen North/Bill Hill Glades

Named after a local who “spent some time in them thar hills,” Bill Hill is located on land owned by the Gorham Land Company—who also own the Great Glen Trails, the Mount Washington Auto Road, and the newly opened Glen House Hotel. Categorized by the GBA as a “lunchtime lap” destination, don’t be dissuaded from spending a day sampling the skiing at Bill Hill; The various glades here may be short, but they feature tightly spaced trees in an area that was recently logged and have just the right amount of pitch. On top of that, Bill Hill is north facing so the glades hold snow after a storm.

To access Bill Hill, park in an obvious plowed area on Bellevue Road—just outside of downtown Gorham—and begin skinning on an established snowmobile track to the far end of the airport, which is easily identified by a brick building. Snowmobile traffic here can be heavy at times, especially on the weekends, so keep your guard up, wear bright colors and, if traveling in a group, skin in single file. At the end of the airport, traverse through an open area—that’s also clearly popular with snowmobilers—and loop back along the opposite side of the airstrip for a few hundred yards before entering the woods on the right. If this seems confusing, just picture the approach as a “U.”

Shortly after entering the woods, skiers will come across a mountain bike trail sign reading “For Pete’s Sake.” Follow that trail momentarily before breaking left onto an old logging road that leads to steeper terrain, eventually gaining a ridge and the top of the gladed skiing—if you’re not skiing in the middle of a storm, there is a good chance someone has done the hard work and put in a skin track to follow. From the top of the ridge, there are multiple glades to drop into and enjoy the 600-foot descent through the trees to the old logging road you entered on. From here, either head back up for another run or retrace your steps to the car.

Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on the Crescent Glades. | Credit: Tim Peck

Crescent Ridge Glade

Another great glade is just up the road in the Randolph Community Forest. Offering something for everyone, Crescent Ridge Glade features five distinct ski corridors—described by the GBA as “low-density vertical lines that are approximately 35-50 feet in width”—that all funnel skiers into a large hardwood glade and, eventually, back to the trail they entered on. From here, skiers can easily head up for another lap (or three) before returning the way they came to their car. Offering a wide variety of terrain in a relatively condensed area, the initial pitch of Crescent Ridge’s runs vary between 30 and 35 degrees, before mellowing to 20 to 25 degrees, eventually giving way to 10- and 15-degree terrain on the ski out.

Crescent Ridge skiers start the day at a plowed parking lot located at the end of Randolph Hill Road, right off of U.S. Highway 2 in Randolph. From the parking lot, skin past the kiosk on a wide track for a few minutes before entering the woods on the Carlton Notch Trail. Following the GBA’s blue blazes, skiers will skin through gently rolling terrain, through a large open field with amazing views of the Northern Presidentials (just turn around), and past the bottom of the large hardwood glade. It’s here that the skintrack steepens for the final push to the ridge and entry points to the ski corridors, which are numbered 1 through 5.

Skiers should plan on it taking between an hour and an hour and a half to make the little-under-two-mile, 1,000-foot climb from the parking lot to the ridge and expect it to take 20 to 30 minutes to transition and make the 600-foot climb needed to lap the trees. Getting back to the parking lot is easy and fast (provided the water crossings are filled in)—simply ski back the way you came in.

Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck
Skiing Maple Villa with Mount Washington in the distance through the trees. | Credit: Tim Peck

Maple Villa

Maple Villa Glade is the largest, longest, and most popular glade on this list. Skiing at Maple Villa—which is named for a hotel at the end of the original ski trail—has a long history, beginning in 1933 with the Civilian Conservation Corps cutting the “Maple Villa” ski trail. Shortly thereafter, Maple Villa became the Intervale Ski Area, which operated for approximately the next 40 years. Following the closing of Intervale Ski Area in the mid-1970s, the Maple Villa area was home to the Eastern Mountain Sports (cross-country) Ski Touring Center. Skiers today will discover everything from tightly spaced trees to resort-esque runs varying in length from 800 to 1,700 feet.

One of the factors for Maple Villa’s popularity (in addition to its expansive terrain) is its proximity to North Conway. The parking lot for Maple Villa is found on 70 East Branch Road in Intervale and is just minutes from North Conway. Leaving the parking lot, skiers follow blue blazes along the original Maple Villa Ski Trail as it slowly gains elevation along the two(ish)-mile skin that climbs approximately 1,700 feet. A number of descent options are obvious from the top of the glade—all of which offer a mostly moderate pitch and terrain alternating between closely spaced trees to more widely spaced runs. Keep your eyes peeled as Mount Washington can be spied through the trees on the descent.

The upper half of Maple Villa is meant to be lapped, and the area’s primary runs all deposit skiers to the same place—allowing them to follow the skin track back up roughly 800 feet of elevation, or providing them with a gentle ski out the way they came, along the old Maple Villa Ski Trail. Skiers can expect it to take an hour to an hour and a half to go from the parking lot to the top of the gladed terrain and between 30 and 45 minutes to skin a lap.

 

Whether it’s establishing larger areas like Maple Villa or maintaining smaller “lunch lap” locations like Bill Hill, the Granite Backcountry Alliance has put a lot of time, work, and money into these projects. If you explore these glades, please be courteous of the area and respectful of the rules, especially where to park if a lot is full. If you’d like to support the GBA, consider donating, becoming a member, attending one of their events (like the upcoming Wild Corn on April 4th), or taking part in one of their workdays.


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