To find the perfect ski or snowboard pack, you must first decide what constitutes the perfect day on snow. Unencumbered resort laps? A fully loaded backcountry tour? Heli-skiing or hut-to-hut? Pick your passion and you'll find a pack tailor-made for it here. And if your typical ski season involves a little bit of everything, consider The North Face's Gear of the Year-winning Patrol 35, which does exactly what a versatile pack should do: subdue unwieldy loads on the way up and disappear on the way down.
The North Face Patrol 35 (3.6 lbs) $139 thenorthface.com
1.The Patrol 35 nails the most important feature in a winter pack: how well it carries skis or a snowboard. TNF's Fly-Trap carrying system compresses skis (A-frame or diagonally) or board (vertically) amazingly close to your center of gravity. The result is excellent stabilitywhich made me feel balanced and secure when I boot-packed up icy steps on Colorado's Loveland Pass.
2. The carrying system is backed up by a suspension that delivers solid support even when the pack is loaded to the gills. Dubbed the X-2 Suspensionan internal frame of aluminum stays crossed in an Xit provides great load control without adding much weight. Translation: On the way down from Loveland I hardly noticed I was wearing a pack, even while weaving through tight glades.
3. If one ski pack can do it all, this is it. Credit the versatile size: The 2,150-cubic-inch Patrol 35 is big enough for ski touring a hut system (which we did near Aspen) and compact enough for routine day trips (which we did all over). It's a bit cumbersome for riding the chairlift, but as our crew tested pack after pack, this one stayed in the rotation for everything else on the itinerary.