Ski Equipment Advice

Ski Equipment Advice
Lift lines getting you down? Economy has you seeing fewer trips to your ski area? Don't fret or worry, with the proliferation of new alpine touring and telemark ski gear on the market, the backcountry has just opened up to newbies and hardcore skiers alike. Even if you have never stepped a boot outside a resort's ropes, with a little planning, a class or two, and some alterations to your existing gear, you can be riding the backcountry in no time.


Difficulty: Moderate

Choosing the Right Gear for the Backcountry

Things You’ll Need:
  • Avalanche Beacon Probe Shovel AT or telemark ski gear
  • Avalanche Beacon
  • Probe
  • Shovel
  • AT or telemark ski gear
Step 1
If you are taking the step into the backcountry, but are overwhelmed and are not familiar with backcountry skiing, begin by deciding if you are going free heel (telemark) or locking them down (AT). If going with AT set-ups, begin by looking at a solid pair of AT boots. Unlike the alpine/ski area boots, AT boots have special settings to allow for "touring mode" or "ski mode." This means with the flip of a switch you can walk in the AT boots and have flex off the heal. This is perfect for setting boot tracks up the mountain. When locked down, these boots respond much like a traditional alpine boot. With the advancement in technology, AT boots either perform equally to alpine boots or better.

Telemark boots or "tele" to those in the know, have flex in the toe and re designed to hike and walk in as well as ski in the telemark position. They are softer than AT boots, but telemark skiing has a higher learning curve than AT skiing.
Step 2
Understand that next in line after the boots is a good set of AT or telemark bindings. AT bindings are heavier than the telemark cousins, but still allow you to free heal while climbing and hiking up the slopes. On descent, you lock them down and have a binding very similar to a standard alpine binding. New AT bindings, such as the Fritschi bindings, have adjustable DIN settings and allow you to tighten or loosen the settings depending on your level of ability and how aggressive you will ski the hills.

Telemark bindings have a free heel that allows you to climb with impunity. The descent requires the special telemark turn or technique, which is art to watch when down the proper way. Telemark bindings are available in many different shapes and forms.
Step 3
Know that the ski you choose depends on your size, ability, and where you plan to do most of your skiing. If you are a Northeast dweller, it is unlikely that you will need a pair of super fat powder skis, these days defined as being over 110 mm at the waist, or middle of the the ski. If you are a West coast powder junkie, a fat ski (over 100 mm at the waist) is a good choice. Generally speaking, you want to find a ski that is approximately the same distance as the ground to your wrist when holding you hand over your head.
Step 4
Select your poles, probe, beacon and shovel. These are all absolutely mandatory pieces of equipment for backcountry skiing. An avalanche beacon is a transmitter that allows your partners to zero in on you should you become buried in an avalanche, as well as allowing you to search for your friends should they fall to such a fate. A probe of at least 110 cm is required and a solid, metal shovel to dig out victims is as well.

The knowledge to use these items is essential. They will do you no good unless you know what to do with them, so make sure that you research and sign up for an entry-level (at the least) avalanche class.
Step 5
Now that you have the gear, and a beginning bit of knowledge, get out there and enjoy the freedom that going beyond the boundaries give.

Article Written By Eric Cedric

A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.

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