You have several good choices here, Walker. The key requirements are as follows: Somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 cubic inches of capacity (enough for extra clothing, lunch, and self-rescue gear but not so much that youre carrying a big, flapping pack); good lash-on points for skis, avalanche shovels, and other gear; and a fit that hugs like Carmen Electra, so the pack doesnt mess with your schussing.
For years the gold standard was Dana Designs Bomb Pack, so named because of its popularity with ski patrollers who used it to lug their avalanche-control grenades. And even though Marmot purchased what was left of the fading Dana marquee a few years back, the Bomb lives on. Now tricked out in Marmot labeling (www.marmot.com), its much like the well-used Bomb Pack currently in my gear loft: More capacity than most people need (3,100 cubic inches), but with ski holsters, a shovel pocket, and a suspension that can handle the weight if you decide to lug a bag of cement. At $229, the price is a bit steep, but the Bomb remains an excellent pack.
That said, perhaps a more reasonably sized pack is ArcTeryxs ski-specific M20 ($150; www.arcteryx.com). It has almost 1,350 cubic inches of capicity in the tall size, plus the ability to carry skis or snowboards and other backcountry ski gear. Waterproof zippers and a highly water-resistant bag material, plus a roll-top design, ensure that your gear stays dry but is readily accessible. ArcTeryx had the skier in mind and fitted the pack so it stays close to your back.
Or, take a look at Ospreys excellent, ski-specific Switch 36 ($150; www.ospreypacks.com). Its a bit bigger than the M20 but not as big as the Bomb, with about 2,200 cubic inches of capacity. And it has lots of thoughtful snow-specific features, such as a special goggle pocket, a separate compartment for wet gear, easy side access, and the ability to carry skis vertically or diagonally. Osprey is really on top of its game these days, and the Switch 36 shows some solid pack design.
Get more advice from the Gear Guy as he picks this seasons top gifts in Away.coms Holiday Gift Guide. Youll probably find a few things to put on your own wish list, too.