Gear to Go
From helmets to boards, performance and comfort are high on this year's list
By Sean O'Brien
HELMETS AND HATS
With in-the-trees riding the rage, helmets have been rescued from dork-brigade status. Leedom, Red, and Giro all offer noggin protection that looks good and doesn't impede performance. The easy-glide vent technology of the Giro Ravine ($125) makes air-flow control a breeze. The Giro Bugaboo ($80) was designed for kids, with light weight in mind, and can be traded in for $20 off another helmet when junior is ready for a larger size. If helmets aren't your thing (tsk, tsk), wear a beanie. The acrylic Morrow Racer ($25) or Turtle Fur's wool and fleece EcoWool Beanie ($12.50) both provide hassle-free warmth for the head and ears.
While snowboarding's Olympic debut was suitably scandalous, the masses thronging to sideways sliding these days aren't the green-haired punks of yore. You no longer have to look or act age 17 to enjoy snowboarding, and performance and comfort — not attitude — are the catchwords this year. This season's quiet revolution is toward snowboarding jackets with high-end fabrics like Gore-Tex and Polartec, a broad color palette reflecting the sport's new diversity, and more venting and layering options than ever. Silhouettes have normalized — baggy extremes are gone, replaced by designs dictated by the technical needs of the rider. The Westbeach Dylan II ($350) incorporates ample venting through the chest and back, a roll-away hood, and taped seams. Similar high-end features are found on Bonfire's Platinum Jacket 2 ($305), which has an articulated hood that maximizes peripheral vision — preventing your heelside turns from becoming demolition derbies. Looking for a technical jacket without the wallet sting? Helly Hansen's Grinder ($160) and the new Power Girl Parka from Cold As Ice ($198) are mid-priced performers offering technical features and designs once found only on high-end outerwear.
Waterproof, breathable, easy to vent, and tough enough to handle inadvertent butt slides: These are all-important traits for snowboarding pants. Burton's Tri-lite ak ($270) are top-of-the-line Gore-Tex pants specifically designed to maximize a snowboarder's range of motion. Sessions JL Vortex ($220) will never be confused with those powder-puff poser pants cowering in the base lodge. These Gore-Tex workhorses have side zips, taped seams, and fleece lining at the knees and seat to make resting more comfortable. The Cold As Ice Paint Box Pants ($150) offer women snowboarders figure-flattering styling, insulation options, and the now-mandatory waterproof/breathable performance — all in a mid-priced package.
Nothing robs confidence like fogged-up eyewear. Luckily, the feline Oakley Racing Jacket ($125) has ample venting in its solid, hingeless frame — as well as wide lenses for full range of vision. Even on bluebird-sky days you need a quality glove. The Da Kine Ranger ($75) has removable fleece liners for versa-tility and a soft amara MSD (Mucous Storage Device) nose wipe you'll almost instantly love (sick but true). After a dozen runs, you're gonna need a drink. The new, insulated CamelBak SnoBowl ($53) comfortably molds to your back and stows 50 ounces of cotton-mouth relief.
BOOTS AND BINDINGS
Step-in boots and bindings now offer convenience and a level of performance even pro snowboarders respect, so some say it's just a matter of time before strap bindings and soft boots are relegated to the ash heap of snowboarding history. But hold on. Deep powder, backcountry riding with long walks, and halfpipe hits are still areas where strap bindings excel. The new Sims Posi-Link binding ($179) offers a heat-treated aluminum baseplate and ratchet buckle, and a baseplate extension (called a Power Ramp) that increases leverage on toeside turns and reduces toe drag. Couple this with Northwave's new The Master soft boot ($269), with its ankle-protecting Biomex technology, and you have a winning setup. But there's good reason why the whole snowboarding world is abuzz about the Burton SI Ruler boot ($230) and Burton SI (step-in) binding ($170). After years of threatening to make a step-in, Burton finally has its team riders' seal of approval on the system. The result is an external highback binding that allows the boot to remain soft and flexible, and a boot-to-binding attachment system without vibration-prone metal-to-metal contact. The only question is, will the system live up to its hype?
Try out any new snowboard this year and odds are it will work pretty well. After years of refinement, sidecuts are dialed, boards are relatively light and durable, and inserts don't pull out anymore. Drastic changes are hard to find, but refinements abound. For example, Lib Technologies' Emma Peel was introduced in '91 and has been tweaked ever since. This year's model ($408) features a Teflon titanium base material for low drag and high speeds, and a wood core that uses encapsulated air to reduce weight. The Ride Timeless ($450) uses a tip-to-tail wood core with strips of carbon-fiber on top and strips of kevlar underneath for a fast, chatter-free ride.
Photographs by Gary Hush
Copyright 1998, Outside magazine