Rando Revolution

Drawn to the backcountry? With the new wave of alpine touring gear, freedom is just beyond the ropes

Jan 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming.

"LEARN TO TELEMARK" used to be the mantralike response you got whenever you asked your local ski shop dude how to dabble in a little hut-to-hut action. The trouble then, as now, is that not everyone wants to spend a bunch of weekends enduring face plants on the bunny hill as preparation. But there is hope. It's called alpine touring (AT), and as many as 100,000 North Americans have embraced it as a more user-friendly ticket to the backcountry.

Known to Europeans as randonnée ("long hike"), AT skis are sturdy and mounted with pivoting toe bindings that allow powder hounds to ascend hills, then lock down their heels for alpine-style turns. Responding to the off-piste craze—and realizing that available rando boots were often sloppy, and the sticks too hefty—a host of boot makers, along with ski giants K2 and Atomic, among others, have joined boutique companies such as Jackson, Wyoming-based Life-Link to create a variety of safe and responsive AT options. On the pages that follow you'll find complete rando setups for two different off-piste personas. Bachelor number one, whom we'll call the Ounce Shaver, is into epic hut trips and all the vertical that comes with a week in the backcountry. He wants the most feathery AT gear available. Our second skier, the Bomber, is tricked out for a day of couloir skiing. With stiffer boots and somewhat beefier skis, bindings, and other essentials, he's less worried about weight than about having gear that's tough enough to handle the chutes. And because the mountains don't care what labels you wear, both skiers are equipped with avalanche gear. Our advice: Choose a setup that's right for you, sign up for a snow-safety course, then head for the hills. Your own long hike awaits.

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