This article was originally posted on 12/7/2011. It was written by Andy Dappen.
Introduction. Besides owning and operating Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Adam Mckenny is an accomplished skier, whitewater paddler, climber, and more. He does all of these sports at a level most of the outdoor crowd wishes they could do one of them. He and his staff test the items carried in the store and stock those items they like or that seem most appropriate to our needs here in Central Washington.
Adam went through a rapid-fire presentation of what he uses and what he likes for backcountry skiing.
Ski pants. He’s tried most of the different fabrics and Schoeller fabric works the best. It sheds rain/snow and breathes better than competitive fabrics and it evaporates sweat like crazy.
Next-to-Skin Layer. He’s given up on synthetics (most of these are polyesters). Synthetics work but products made of merino wool are better. Merino wool is warmer when dry, warmer when wet, evaporates better, and doesn’t stink as you sweat in it. The downside: wool is more delicate and takes more care than synthetics.
Next-to-Skin Hoody. Adam really likes base layers or a second thin layer (made of wool) with a hood. The hood lets you adjust for heat/cold super-fast and on the fly. He’s been using a model made by Ibex.
Mesh ball cap. It’s another layer that can go and off fast for heat regulation. It also keeps both sun and snow out of the eye.
Packs. Both Adam and his friends who guide have become believers of packs with a built-in Avalung. In a burial situation, the Avalung greatly boosts a victim’s survival time under the snow. Some of Adam’s guide friends have been involved in incidents where this probably made the difference in a live recovery. The Avalung is proprietary to Black Diamond so the only packs with built-in Avalung are made by Black Diamond. There are several sizes of packs — pick one that fits the type of skiing you do. You can also buy an Avalung that straps onto your chest but the packs are hugely more convenient and ensure the product is along when you need it. Make sure you actually put the mouthpiece in your mouth if you venture onto a slope you consider hazardous (skiers haven’t always been successful inserting the mouthpiece if they simply leave the mouthpiece positioned next to their lips).
Airbag Packs. More and more serious skiers (especially in Europe) are moving to packs with deployable airbags that keep you on top of the debris in the event of a slide. The results of these packs is impressive, but Adam has not been that impressed with the airbag pack made by Backcountry Access, which is the most readily available such pack in this country.
Skins. The best ones in his opinion are the nylon skins from Black Diamond. He finds these better than G3 nylon skins. Mohair skins are about half the bulk and maybe 60% the weight of the nylon skins but they are not as durable. They also absorb water – in some conditions they won’t be any lighter after they’ve absorbed more water weight than the nylon skins.
General ski info. Adam showed us what the new rocker skis look like and how these can give you good platform for flotation, good edge when carving, but a more controllable ski when you take them off edge and want to let them sideslip and skid. In many cruddy conditions, a rockered tip rises out of the crust or crud and lets you ski bad snow much more easily. In short, he thinks rocker is great stuff – particularly in the tip. Rocker in the tail can be a pain and make backcountry skis hard to kick turn and hard to drive into the snow for anchors. More serious backcountry types may want a ski with tip rocker and very little or no tail rocker.
Skis. A variety of skis were shown to us. On the lighter, narrower side was the Fischer S-Bound 112 ski with a 78mm waist and a no-wax base (fun for doing roads or easier trips, cranking some turns, and then climbing onward).The Atomic Charter (100 mm in the waist) is one of Adam’s favorite go-to skis for many conditions – this is a pretty skinny by his standard. DBS skis are wider, rockered skis Adam thought to be the most versatile boards going–real game changers in what you can ski (carbon version is quite light but expensive – about $1200). K2 has skis in various widths – some good skis with rockered tips but no tail rocker (the tails are stiffer than what Adam prefers). Dynafit Manaslu is a popular ski around here (92 to 95mm waist) but its rocker is not as sophisticated as newer skis. Adam didn’t have the Voile skis displayed but he carries them and likes them as well.
Bindings. Dynafit binding is one of the best skiing backcountry bindings—skiability in downhill mode far better than most other ski-touring bindings that have a plate or a bar between the toe and heel pieces. Uphill performance is also good but not as convenient as some other bindings like the Fritschi. The Dynafit patent is up on some of its oldest bindings so the Plum Guide binding uses Dynafit technology to make a similar product that is very nicely made. Marker Duke binding is a sidecountry binding.
Boots. The Flex Index of boots tells their stiffness and a World-Cup-quality race boot has a Flex Index of about 150. Black Diamond Factor boot, is a Freeride boot weighing 9 pounds with a Flex Index of 130. The Dynafit Titan weighs 7.22 pounds and has a Flex Index of 125 (awesome boot). The Scarpa Maestrale is also excellent, weighs 6.7 pounds, has a Flex index of 110 to 115, has a very good walk mode, fits wider feet, and is the boot Adam uses the most. Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain is incredibly light (5.7 pounds) yet very powerful (Flex index of 100) – you can charge on this boot if it fits (fits narrower feet).
Quiver Killers. These are threaded inserts you can drill and screw into skis. These inserts let you quickly put-on or take-off a binding so that you can: use different bindings on the same ski, switch the same binding back and forth between your winter ski and your spring ski, reposition a binding so different people can easily use the same ski. There are also a variety of pre-drilled plates available like the DynaDuke swap plates that let you quickly switch between Duke bindings for the resort, and Dynafits for the backcountry.
Other. If you were at the session, you know Adam said absolutely nothing about toesocks. Adam didn’t have time to discuss everything but foot maintenance is always a challenge with ski boots because feet sweat a ton and sweat has nowhere to go in the foam liners of modern boots. We’ve found these socks from Injinji very helpful if you’re prone to blisters on or between your toes as your skin soften and chafe in this brutal boot environment. Both the crew-height Outdoor Toesock or the lightweight toesock (crew height) used as a liner with a normal sock over it are great footcare measures that greatly reduce toe blisters.