The biggest development for the telemark set since the beard trimmer is the debut this season of high-performance pivot bindings, which release under the ball of the foot in touring mode so you don't have to fight against boot flex and spring-loaded heel cables with every step. Our pick: BLACK DIAMOND's 01 ($299; bdel.com), a sturdy, blazingly responsive binding that changes modes with the flick of a ski pole. Secure it between KARHU's fat, limited-edition, aspen-and-maple PFD ski ($650; karhu.com) and SCARPA's burly, four-buckle T1 boot ($649; scarpa.com) for the best all-mountain telly rig known to man. If you want the backcountry access only a free heel can deliver but still need full lockdown for attacking the steeps alpine style, pair NAXO's DIN-13 NX21 bindings with GARMONT's ADRENALIN boots ($629; garmont.com), which come with swappable touring and alpine soles. There are lighter AT setups on the market, but none has the ability to drive a big-mountain ski the way this one does. M. M.
THE ULTIMATE BACKCOUNTRY TEST
For a few moments, standing at the Crested Butte, Colorado, start line of the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse race, you will feel a sense of overwhelming dread. It's pitch black, midnight, 15 degrees out. Up ahead, between you and the finish line in Aspen, await 40 miles of steep mountain passes and ungroomed Colorado wilderness. You might want to turn to your partner (no one is allowed to enter solo) and say, "Listen, bro, if you want to bail on this, I'd totally understand." But then the starting gun goes off. In 20 minutes, you stop flailing and find your rhythm, pushing one ski in front of the other in the eerie darkness. And within a few hours, it begins to get light. At the top of 12,000-plus-foot Star Pass, the Rockies stretch out infinitely in front of you, the sun is finally thawing your face, and you realize you're part of the most spectacular winter race in the world. Enter this event before you die. March 31, 2007; elkmountaintraverse.org Christopher Keyes