| GEAR TO GO|
GEARING UP FOR THE SLIPPERY SLOPE
The state of the alpine art continues to bring once-exotic concepts to the fore: Witness short trick skis, racy boots and bindings, and smart insulations that know when to release stored heat. Perhaps most heartening is the emergence of ever-spiffier helmets, configured not just for downhill racers but for all of us who have seen out-of-bounds trees whiz by much too fast...and close.
Where steep and deep are the norm and a short run is 2,000 feet, K2's AK Launcher ($660) is the implement. First used by Alaska heli-skiers, the Launcher's 119/88/105 dimensions let you carve on, rather than sink into, any kind of soft snow. If it's tricks and air you crave, Salomon's twin-tipped X-Scream Teneighty ($595) lets you launch and land fakie or regular, and its 161 or 177 cm lengths give you a chance of pulling off that 360. Less a specialty tool is Stöckli's Stormrider ($759). The handmade iso-core ski adds three layers of Titanal, a titanium alloy, for going fast, busting crud, and sticking landings. Its 105/73/97 dimensions will handle almost any snow, and it's available up to 204 cm for those who whine about too-short skis.
BOOTS AND BINDINGS
If you're ready to move up a skill-level notch or two, look to Dalbello or Nordica for the right boots. Dalbello's CRX Fusion Custom ($450) offers micro-adjustable forward lean and two forward flex positions—"ski" and the more aggressive "carve." The custom-fit liner can be heat-molded, and heel height can also be adjusted. Nordica's Next Exo 9.0 ($495) uses a plastic exoskeleton for soft forward flex but stiff lateral support. The Next's liner contains Outlast, a space-program fabric impregnated with zillions of tiny bubbles that absorbs excess heat, stores it, then releases it to keep your feet a constant comfortable temperature. It works as long as you're generating body heat. No such bells and whistles on Salomon's Performa Course Axe ($695)—just raw power built on a new, low-volume, race-oriented last and designed to be easily modified for a perfect fit.
Bindings have drastically improved. Salomon's S900 Alium Poweraxe ($345) transmits extra pressure where needed during a turn, allowing you to scribe precise arcs. The toe is designed to reduce the binding's tension during a rolling fall. The heel piece of Look's P 8.0 L ($285) marries step-in convenience with the performance of turntable designs, long favored by racers because they interfere less with ski flex. This binding also boasts superb elasticity in both toe and heel, meaning fewer unwelcome prereleases.
Mammut's Lhotse II technical mountaineering jacket ($498) may be the ultimate skier's shell. Two-layer Gore-Tex, a high fleece-lined collar, and a storm skirt seal out weather. The detachable hood can all but completely cover your face, and the venting system channels air through the roomy front pockets and out zippered vents behind the shoulders. Patagonia's Fusion jacket ($249) takes an alternative approach to managing weather: Let it in. The Fusion combines a highly breathable, water-repellent nylon microfiber shell with dense polyester pile lining to trap body heat, which in turn drives away moisture from within and without. It works, even during a full day of skiing in the rain. The Fusion's urban casual styling makes it an excellent après-ski and around-town jacket as well.
Your bottom half needs coverage, too, and Moonstone's burly three-layer Gore-Tex BC Pant ($299) can take the abuses of skiing. Built-in gaiters, wide suspenders, and a high-back waist keep the snow out, while full side zips and a drop seat let you get out when you need to.
Women's styles are often simply remade men's models, but Juno makes only women's outerwear. Their Valkyrie Jacket ($369) and Electra Pants ($229) are both fully waterproof and breathable. The Valkyrie has stretch panels for unrestricted movement, while the Electra pants are completely stretchy. For colder conditions, Hard Corps's lightly insulated Whammy jacket ($235) sports a flattering cut that won't turn wearers into Michelin women, plus taped seams, a zip-off hood, and zippered underarm vents.
Some skiers can shred a pair of gloves in a season, but they'll be hard-pressed to destroy Mammut's Snowbird Glove ($170), built exclusively of durable Schoeller fabrics. The body of the glove is a Cordura/elastic blend, and the palm is Keprotec with Inox, a mix of stainless steel yarn and Kevlar. Inside, there's insulating foil, a removable fleece liner, and Gore-Tex to keep you dry.
Finally, Suunto's Altimax wrist computer ($179) lets you keep score on your exploits. It has the expected altimeter, barometer, and watch functions, but also records vertical gain and loss.
HELMETS AND EYEWEAR
Smart skiers are forgoing the traditional beanie in favor of a helmet. There's a look for every taste, and all offer industry-standard protectiveness. Boeri's Axis (Carbon model, $135) looks fast and has an Outlast liner to keep your noggin thermally regular. The Grateful Heads Hard Hit ($110) looks even more aggressive and has an exceptionally secure strapping system. Red's Decaf ($90) is a great choice for spring skiing, as it covers just enough of your bean to provide protection without cradling it in a sauna. When it's cold, just add Red's windproof-breathable Skullcap ($25).
Helmets are incompatible with most goggles, but the narrower frame on Smith's Cascade Turbo C.A.M. ($170) fits under most, and its two-speed fan fends off fogging. When goggles are too much, Rudy Project's Skeey polycarbonate sunglasses ($100$115) offer sharp optics and an aero look. —Stuart Craig
For a Directory of Manufacturers, please see page 123.