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Essential Gear

Outside magazine, Travel Guide 1997-1998

Essential Gear
By Sean O'Brien


Snowboarding is now the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with participation jumping a startling 32 percent last year alone. As the sport becomes more sophisticated, so does the equipment and apparel. Here's a wish list of what's new and noteworthy this season:

Chugging up a chairlift in a mid-winter whiteout, you'll soon discover the importance of a high-quality jacket. The Sessions JL Hot Potato ($196), the Burton Tri-Lite Convertible Women's Jacket ($290), and Bonfire's Platinum Jacket Two ($280) are well-built waterproof-breathable jackets with the features snowboarders need: Pit zips and vent panels on the Burton and Bonfire jackets allow ample ventilation; articulated hoods ensure peripheral vision while riding; and snow skirts, waist gaiters, or drawstrings prevent your base layers from getting soaked.

The Storm-F.I.T. Heavyweight Board Jacket ($400) from Nike is just one of the snowboard-specific products Nike has unveiled this season; keep an eye peeled for Nike boards and boots as well. If your wallet is a bit flat, consider the Convert Body Jar Jacket ($120) from Columbia. Functional, basic, not too expensive — the Convert line is just behind Burton's in popularity on the hill.

Until you master your toeside turn, expect to spend a lot of time sitting in the snow. Choose a pant constructed of an abrasion-resistant material like Cordura through the seat and cuffs. Dub's Lexon Pant ($190) sports taffeta ankle gaiters with lace locks. Prom's Ursula Pant for women (non-insulated, $105; insulated, $119) are available with or without 40 grams of Thinsulate insulation. The full-length side zipper on Westbeach's Kaeko Pant ($230) makes venting and changing boots a cinch.

Warmth and flexibility are key components in a snowboarding glove — as is durability. The outer shell of Da Kine's Adventurer ($95) incorporates Spectra fibers in its weave — pound for pound, it's stronger than steel. The palm of Marmot's Tough Glove ($99) is treaded with Neotek, which remains grippy in cold and wet conditions. Both gloves feature a removable liner.

Tired of sitting in the snow while strapping in to your board? Consider the variety of step-in boot-and-binding systems now available. Switch's Autolock 750 binding ($199) allows the Switch-compatible boots to rest close to the board for sensitivity while riding. The straight-down, step-in entry gets you riding in a hurry, and the co-injected latch delivers the durability of metal with reduced weight. Neck-and-neck with Switch is K2's Clicker step-in system. The Clicker XLT binding ($169) weighs a scant 1.1 pounds, has a svelte, low-profile design, and has been redesigned to offer enhanced medial and lateral flexibility. The K2 Yak ($229) is a new Clicker-compatible boot with an adjustable forward-lean external highback for heelside leverage.

If step-ins aren't your thing, check out the Drifter ($210), Burton's most supportive soft boot, with a self-centering, soft-leather tongue. Burton's Custom Freestyle binding ($170), with its full-foot shock absorption pad and high Skyback design, is the sports car of traditional bindings. It even comes with a clip-on Gas Pedal — a baseplate extension that increases toeside response and reduces toe drag. The growing number of women riders might consider the Circe Wallace Signature Boot from Vans ($199). This all-mountain boot has an anatomically correct sole built around a women's last for a snug, supportive fit. The Airwalk Freeride ($270) is available with both a men's and women's last. This year's version features a redesigned internal harness system to eliminate heel slippage.

Unless you plan to become a full-time half-pipe denizen, choose a board designed for all-mountain performance. You'll carve through any snow condition and still handle the half-pipe and terrain park with aplomb. Advanced core technologies in this year's models offer increased performance and decreased weight. The Sims Project Hex ($479) twin tip has aluminum honeycombed inserts in the tip and tail. The core of the Rossignol Strato FR ($359) is a super-hard composite polyurethane called Microcell that dampens vibration evenly in all directions — great on icy trails. The Burton Supermodel ($430-$440) has a new Super Fly II wood core that's 45 percent lighter than the standard wood core. Salomon eschews board graphics and catchy names, touting performance instead. Its all-mountain directional 157 ST ($420) uses Mavic mountain-bike rim technology in a one-piece edge. The Sanders Design 148 ($416) from Avalanche is a women's board designed by Beverly Sanders, one of the sport's pioneers. Check out its ultra-deep sidecut for rapid edge-to-edge transfers.

Photographs by Clay Ellis

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