Walking Is for Hikers
The best skis and boards for gliding up and carving down
“RANDONNÉE: French for ‘can’t telemark.'” That’s the latestbumper sticker to escalate the lighthearted ribbing war that’s raging among backcountry skiers. The likely randonnée rebuttal? “Telemark: Norwegian for ‘slow hippie.'” Snowboarders, of course, get it from both sides because skiers of all stripes view them as barn doors for disparaging barbs. Strapped sideways to their decks and terrified of having to actually traverse a slope (for good reason: They can’t) many boarders behave like slide monkeys, post-holing up avalanche chutes and smokin’ butts on overhanging cornices.
Beneath it all, though, the verbal barrage is really just so much wisecracking. We’re all after the same thing and we know it. Big mountains overwhelm small differences, and our choice of gear, in the end, is inconsequential to the joy of carving untracked corn. To know a mountain you must climb it, each step another layer of snowpack and route-finding data. But to feel a mountain, to sense its rhythm, you must ski it…or ride it, or rip sweet tele turns down it. Choose whatever method you like, the experience is just as pure.
Fortunately, the last decade has produced a revolution in glisse-mountaineering equipment. Randonnée gear (called alpine touring, or AT, for Francophobes) that was once heavy and prone to mechanical failure is now incredibly lightweight and dependable. Telemark gear, on the other hand, has added weight—with excellent results: Gone are the days of risking your life in ankle-biting leather boots on skinny skis. Some of the most dramatic changes, however, are in backcountry snowboarding, specifically the refinement of split boards that enable you to ski up and ride down, and step-in-binding-compatible ascent skis that you strap to your pack at the summit. For fairly tame routes up snowfields, in fact, it’s almost inexcusable not to bring ski or snowboard gear. Ascending with climbing skins is easier than kicking steps, and skis let you make a fast exit when bad weather rolls in. For our Ring of Fire trip (see preceding pages), we rounded up the finest ski-and snowboard-mountaineering gear available. Here’s how it worked.
AT bindings perform two basic functions: They permit the heel to move freely (think cross-country skiing) while you’re climbing or touring and then let you lock down your heel for descents (think downhill skiing). Without trashing telemarking too much, there are four indisputable advantages AT equipment enjoys over tele gear. (1) Control: Locked heels transmit more energy and steering force from leg to ski. If you’re clinging to an icy 50-degree slope with 30 pounds of gear strapped to your back, worrying about pitching over the tips shouldn’t be the first thing on your mind. (2) Release: Like downhill bindings, AT bindings have adjustable release settings for both toe and heel (some telemark bindings also release, but for whatever reason, tele skiers haven’t bought in). That’s good news in a crash because less torque on the knees means less chance of injury. Even more important, if you’re caught in an avalanche, releasing from your skis can mean the difference between floating and sinking. (3) AT boots have the grippy rubber soles and the crampon compatibility of mountaineering boots. Telemark boots, with their long, awkward toes, don’t—which forces you either to plod on, never trusting your feet, or to carry a second pair of boots for technical climbing. (4) AT bindings accept ski crampons, which let you keep your skis on your feet when your skins are sliding on ice or you’re traversing a steep slope. Tele bindings don’t.
1 BINDING: Dynafit Tourlite Tech $320 We know what you’re thinking: “There’s no way in hell those two little ball-and-socket pinchers are going to hold me in. I’ve seen tougher mousetraps.” Get over it. Yes, it’s true that the Tourlite binding doesn’t inspire much visual confidence. But after a full season of testing (including a brutal descent with a 50-pound pack through boot-deep wet cement from Camp Muir to the Paradise parking lot), the Tourlite’s durability remains unquestioned. And, lest we forget, at 1 pound, 8 ounces, this is the lightest touring binding in the world—less than half the weight of the closest competitor. During the course of a day, that weight savings translates into an energy windfall, meaning you’ll have something left for the descent—which, after all, is the point. The heel piece twists into three touring positions— a simple design that, because the rubber sole of the boot makes contact with the platform, eliminates the annoying click and clatter common to most other AT bindings, where a plate or bar clamped to the boot sole lands on a heel lifter. The Downside? It’s difficult to align the pinchers in deep snow, and dirt can get imbedded in the sockets on muddy approaches, requiring a few minutes of Leatherman work before stepping in.
2 BOOT: Scarpa Laser (Also available in a women’s version, the Magic) $520 Although quite a few companies now build Tourlite-compatible boots (including Dynafit, of course), the Laser is the best to date. Most lightweight boots are too soft for hard skiing, but the 8-pound, 3-ounce Lasers feature stiff plastic tongues that provide resistance, and more important, rebound. An anatomical rocker sole is comfortable on long hikes in, while the lever that switches the upper cuff from tour mode (free-hinging) to ski mode (locked forward) is so simple it’s fail-safe. The Downside? Although it’s a mystery endemic to all AT boots, we’ll single out Scarpa for the following question: Why the hassle of lace-up liners on plastic three-buckle boots when a simple Velcro tab would suffice? You don’t need all those laces just to keep them on your feet at camp. We swapped ours out for some old alpine liners.
3 SKI: Atomic Tour Guide Super Light $300 Keeping with the lightweight theme, Atomic’s Super Lights weigh just 5 pounds, 4 ounces per pair. Luckily, though, they don’t ski like balsa wood. Moderately fat throughout (96 millimeters at the tip, 67 at the waist, 86 at the tail), they have a smooth, carvy feel on corn snow and float well in powder. The Downside? They’re skittish on hard snow (the fix involves adding weight).
1 BINDING: Silvretta Easy Go $365 Unlike Dynafit and Fritschi, who each make a single binding, Silvretta offers three models, including the recently released 500, which can fit any stiff-soled boot—a boon to mountaineers. For ski mountaineering, though, we recommend the Easy Go (3 pounds, 8 ounces). Trust us, bending over to lock a heel piece in place is just too much strain when you’re struggling with a heavy pack. The Easy Go is a step-in, and what’s more, you can convert it from touring to alpine mode by pressing a button with the tip of your ski pole. A carbon-fiber frame helps keep the weight down, and a pivot point set closer to the ball of the foot makes for a more efficient stride. The Downside? The touring-conversion button is too hard to press (you could break a pole trying).
2 BOOT: Nordica TR 12 (Women’s sizes available) $455 When you can’t scamper into the base lodge for a cocoa by the fire, you better make damn sure your boots are warm enough to keep your little piggies from freezing into so much bloated blood sausage. The TR 12 liners are built with multiple layers of foam and cloth so they won’t pack out to the width of an old sock. Moreover, one of those layers is Outlast, a “microcapsulated” material that moderates temperatures by absorbing heat when you’re warm and then releasing it when the mercury drops. At 8 pounds, 4 ounces, the TR 12s compare well with most AT boots in terms of weight, but they also have some nice bells and whistles not found on the competition—like a top buckle that opens up wide for touring and an adjustable rear shim for a better fit on the calf. The Downside? The ski/walk switch needs to click louder so you know the cuff is locked forward (an important piece of information when you’re about to side-slip into a chute). The boot also flexes a little too much and lacks the rebound of the Laser or Strucktura. And for the love of God, this isn’t Austria—lose the neon-green plastic.
SKI: Evolution Teleporter $600 It’s common knowledge that fat skis like the Teleporters (107/83/99) outperform all others in deep, wet powder, but do you really want to climb with them? You bet. With a pair of extra-wide skins, the Teleporters go uphill like dual snowcats—the more skin you have, the more traction. Indeed, if you weigh close to 200 pounds (as our fat-ski tester does), you’re at a disadvantage on skinnier skis. But fatties aren’t just for big guys or midwinter fluff; they’ll also save you in calf-deep mashed-potato snow when you’ve already skied 4,000 feet of corn. The Downside? It’s a lot of ski to haul uphill.
1 BINDING: Fritschi Diamir Titanal 2 $340 Outfitting yourself with AT skis, boots, and bindings costs upwards of $1,100, which might cut into your alpine-ski budget (or wipe it out for the next several years). Don’t take the hit all at once. Mounted on your downhill skis and adjusted to your downhill boots, the Diamirs are perfect for area skiing and short backcountry excursions, especially if your boots have a walk feature. Eventually, you’ll need a pair of dedicated AT boots for long tours and technical climbs, but with the Diamirs, you aren’t forced to buy a full quiver of skis. They’re also easy to step into in soft snow or on a newly excavated platform atop a 50-degree couloir: The heel piece locks down with a comforting audible click. Four touring heights can be adjusted with your pole so you don’t have to bend over with a heavy pack. The Downside? Everything’s heavy compared to the Tourlite, but 3 pounds, 12 ounces isn’t too bad. Urethane bumpers on the touring platform might cut down on the noise.
2 BOOT: Lowa Struktura $425 ($450 with Gore-Tex liners) A new addition to the North American market, the Struktura is loaded with features typically found only on high-end downhill boots: bi-injected molding (stiff plastic where you need support, soft plastic on the front of the cuff for comfort), reverse-closure instep buckles that pull the forefoot closer to the inside of the shell for enhanced edging, and adjustable upper cuffs that enable you to better align the lower leg in the boot. For pure skiing performance, the Struktura was the best boot we tested, and it didn’t come at the price of touring comfort—the liner is warm and durable, there’s plenty of sole rocker for long approaches, and in touring mode the upper cuff flexed as well as any boot we used. The Downside? Wish it were compatible with the Tourlite, but this boot does everything well and only weighs 8 pounds, 4 ounces per pair.
3 SKI: Rossignol Bandit XX $720 Youch, look at that price tag! Relax, you can buy cheaper skis if you live to tour, but teamed with the above boots and bindings, the Bandits (107/74/94) can be your year-round, do-everything boards: Vermont groomers in November, cat-skiing British Columbia in January, hut-to-hut touring the San Juans in April, and, yep, Pacific Northwest volcanoes in June. The Downside? At 7 pounds they’re heavy on long slogs, but if that’s an issue try the Rossi Big Bang ($500). It’s the same ski minus the metal—and $220.
Let’s face it, fellow snowboarders. It’s time we took the advice of those legions of skiers who’ve been heaping derision on us as we’ve hobbled along traverses, flailed across the flats, and tried to access the virgin backcountry by post-holing in clunky snowshoes. It’s time we accepted the truth they’ve been trying to beat into us for years. It’s time we skied. But only uphill, of course. Thanks to split snowboards, which finally permit expeditious switcheroos between bipedal skinning modes and downhill carving stances, backcountry boarding is no longer an oxymoron. And because split boards tend to be longer than the snowboards you’d use on groomers, sometimes as big as 195 centimeters, you not only have extra buoyancy on the way up, but also a big crud-busting platform on the way down. What’s more, split-board skins are considerably wider, and therefore have more traction, than a skier’s skins. Granted, split boards aren’t for everyone. So if you already have a cherished downhill deck and aren’t eager to shell out $600 for a backcountry board, consider approach skis, which are only 100 centimeters long and are easily strapped to your pack at the summit. Although both systems still have some flaws, they beat the hell out of slogging through waist-deep powder and enduring the smug laughter of elitist skiers.
Divide and Conquer
1 BINDING: Voilé Split Decision Plate Bindings $90 The genius of a split snowboard like Voilé’s isn’t the split—you can split any board with a simple $130 kit—but rather the plate that provides a platform for free-heeled, ski-style ascents and then rotates to serve as a solid anchor for your snowboard descent. A removable cotter pin holds the plate securely in either mode. Although you can attach any binding to the plate, multiday expeditions require gear worthy of big mountains. We used Voilé’s hard-plate bindings; at only 28 ounces per pair, the stainless steel design will fit most plastic ski- or snowboard-mountaineering boots, which means you don’t have to stop when the going gets steep to change into boots that accept crampons. The Downside? Those cotter pins can be tough to keep track of when you’re cold and tired; they should be attached with a wire leash. Carry spares or you’ll be walking.
2 BOOT: Garmont GSM $380 Although the Garmont GSM is technically a ski-mountaineering boot and not a snowboard-mountaineering boot, the differences are largely semantic—the plastic boots work brilliantly for knuckle dragging. There’s just enough flex for smoothing out chunky, frozen corn without being too soft for belly-drag carves. As for the ascents, the 6-pound, 10-ounce boots have a tacky Vibram sole with enough rocker to make walking and climbing over rocks comfortable. Three buckles and a Velcro strap around the cuff allow you to finesse the fit, while the removable liners make for great camp shoes. The Downside? Like any AT boot, the GSM has cuffs that come up a little high and make sidestepping in crampons somewhat awkward. But this isn’t a pure mountaineering boot—a fact you’ll appreciate when you’re scribing perfect half-rounds for 2,000 feet.
3 BOARD: Voilé Split 173 $665 There’s no getting around it: The idea of entrusting your big-mountain descent to a snowboard with a crack running down the middle is damn disconcerting. But never fear. Once the bindings are slotted into place, you essentially have two I-beams running across the board. Most sizes feature an extended wood core that is comfortably stiff and holds firmly on hardpack. During ascents, a single-setting heel lifter keeps your calves from combusting, while the girth of the two-edged “skis” makes walking through deep powder a breeze. It takes a few sessions to get the hang of putting the board back together again after skiing up, but it’s not hard. The Downside? The two plastic hooks that keep the nose and tail joined have a tendency to work themselves loose. Yikes.
Click and Point
1 APPROACH SKIS: K2 Ascent $300 Split boards may seem like the logical choice for expedition skiing because instead of carrying the board uphill, you ski the board uphill. Approach skis, however, have their advantages. K2’s 108-centimeter Ascents weigh only 24 ounces each—hardly noticeable when strapped to your pack for the ride down. And since you don’t have to remove the skins or fumble to put your board back together, the approach skis make for a faster transition when you get to the top. (Which, of course, means dibs on the best untracked lines.) The Downside? Problems arise when your trip demands heavy packs loaded with gear for glacier travel and overnights above 10,000 feet. Our tester was burdened with a 10-pound snowboard strapped to his already portly pack. And since the skis don’t distribute weight as widely as their split-board cousins, you’re likely to find yourself sinking in soft snow. In powder, you’ll flounder and be eaten by ravens. Furthermore, the lack of a heel lifter is inexcusable and makes climbing the steeps painful. A wider, longer ski for bigger riders and deeper snow would be a welcome addition.
2 BOOTS: K2 Sidewinder $300 If you use approach skis on your climb, you’ll need crampon-compatible boots. Although K2 makes a 12-point crampon that snaps onto Clicker boots, the setup requires a leap of faith not everyone will feel comfortable making. They seemed to work fine on Rainier’s Ingraham Glacier, but our tester never had total confidence. Crossing scree slopes, scrambling through boulder fields, and front-pointing up seracs in squishy snowboard boots isn’t exactly ideal either. Luckily—although it was a little late for our June trip—K2 just introduced the Sidewinder, a hybrid backcountry snowboarding boot that accepts standard crampons and has a rigid sole for kicking steps, but still snaps onto Ascent skis and Clicker boards. The Sidewinder combines a synthetic-leather-and-nylon upper with a stiff, plastic back for support when carving turns. The boots also adjust from touring to riding modes. The Downside? At 9 pounds, 12 ounces per pair, you need quads like Hermann Maier.
BOARD: K2 Eldorado $419 This 7.5-pound snowboard has a Superlight wood core that makes the all-mountain plank 22 percent lighter than the company’s standard issue. Result: less burden on your back. The board’s sidecut graduates from elliptical at the nose (which helps get your turns under way) to radial at the tail for sturdy carving. The fat, spoonlike nose keeps the board above the powder, and a grommet in the tail will hold a carabiner should you need to rappel. The Downside? It’s light, but you still have to carry it.
Yeah, OK, telemark mountaineering is impractical. Even with perfectly refined boots, lightweight bindings, and pleasingly plump mid-fat skis (the likes of which you’ll find reviewed below), our AT and snowboard buddies are more efficient both up and down the mountain. Well, big whup. They win. And we don’t even mind buying the beers because, without invoking counterculture mantras or struggling to explain the masochistic appeal of our odd sport, telemarking has one remarkable advantage over fixed heeling. Quite simply: The snow is always twice as deep. Drop a knee and ten inches of fresh powder feels like 20. Sure, a loose heel theoretically affords less control in the steeps and crud, but reality seems to disprove this notion. These days telemarkers from Hafjell, Norway, to Valdez, Alaska, are launching “telecopters” off 50-foot cliffs, ripping 55-degree faces, and descending so fast it looks as if they’re falling. What’s even better, a year ago manufacturers like Black Diamond, Scarpa, Garmont, Fritschi, and Rottefella announced the second “plastic revolution.” Lightweight step-in bindings and boots without awkward flipper-toes will debut in the winter of 2002. Just imagine what telemark mountaineering will be like when you can wear front-pointing crampons, kick steps efficiently, and still eat pow on the descent, all without the alpine shackles of a fixed heel.
1 BINDING: G3 Targa T/9 $195 For the same reason that bikers obsess over the weight of their wheels, telemark skiers pay dearly for light bindings. A set of T/9s, introduced this year from Vancouver, B.C.based G3, will burn a substantial hole in your wallet, but they’ll also ensure that you don’t have to kick flimsy three-pins up your peak de resistance. At just 2 ounces over 2 pounds, it’s 8 ounces lighter per pair than the proven G3 Targa, which we tested last June, making the T/9 (along with the Rainey Superloop, $125) the lightest cable binding on the market. With stainless-steel springs, a titanium-and-aluminum toe box, and a cable rated to 1,000 pounds, there’s no question that it’s also the strongest binding available. The Downside? The accompanying ski leash attaches to the boot via a plastic clip. In half a season, one clip ripped off and another shattered during a hard fall.
2 BOOT: Scarpa T2 $450 Nine years ago Scarpa introduced the first all-plastic telemark boot, the Terminator I, whose “collapsible” bellows were famous for mashing toes into raw burger meat. Thanks to some diligent testing, tweaking, and fine-tuning of design, that’s not an issue with the T2, a softer, lighter (7 pounds, 11 ounces), version of the Terminator that achieves a superb balance between stiffness and flexibility. In other words, it drives a ski with force and precision but doesn’t chafe feet. The Downside? The liners pack out at least a full size, so buy small or you’ll be swimming in them.
3 SKI: K2 World Piste $440 When snow conditions flow from black ice to death cookies to cold smoke powder on the same run, one pair of skis won’t carve it all with aplomb. So the question to ask when choosing boards for ski mountaineering is, which conditions do you enjoy most? Stiff, narrow, quick-turning skis can make a disheartening descent tolerable, but since mediocre snow never makes for great memories, invest in something that turns good fortune into godsend—something fat like the World Piste (dimensions 107/75/98). Ample sidecut helps you turn through heavy Sierra cement without reefing on your ACLs. Moderate toe-to-tail stiffness holds an edge well enough—barely—to descend a couloir you’d feel safer down-climbing. On the best winter days it floats like a water ski. The Downside? With a 75-millimeter waist, the World Pistes are understandably slow edge to edge.
TIP: Finicky Goldilocks-types should also try Garmont’s Gara (slightly heavier, $500) or Crispi’s CX-A (slightly softer, $370) to find a boot and feel that’s just right.
Where to Find It:
Dynafit, Life-Link International 800-443-8620, www.life-link.com
Scarpa/Fritschi/Ascension, Black Diamond Equipment, 801-278-5533, www.blackdiamondequipment.com
Atomic Ski, 800-258-5020, www.atomicski.com
Lowa Boots, 888-335-5692, www.lowaboots.com
Rossignol, 800-437-6171, www.rossignol.com
Silvretta/Grivel, Climb High, 802-985-5056, www.climbhigh.com
G3 Genuine Guide Gear, 604-924-9048, www.genuineguidegear.com
K2 Sports, 800-972-4063, www.k2sports.com
Voilé Equipment, 801-973-8622, www.voile-usa.com
Garmont USA, 800-343-6752, www.garmontusa.com
Crispi, Alpina Sports Corp, 603-448-3101, www.alpinasports.com
Nordica, 800-283-6647, www.nordica.com
Evolution USA, 801-484-5811, www.evoskis.com
Rainey Designs, 303-417-0301, www.raineydesigns.com
Charlet Moser/Petzl America, 801-327-3805, www.charlet-moser.com
Backcountry Access, 303-417-1345, www.bcaccess.com
Boeri Sport USA: MPH Associates, 781-551-9933; www.boeriusa.com
Osprey Packs, Inc., 970-564-5900, www.ospreypacks.com
L.L. Bean, 800-809-7057, www.llbean.com
The Right Stuff
Matching Your Gear to the Mountain
What’s ideal for multiple days on technical, glaciated terrain (Rainier) might be overkill on a single-day push up a series of snowfields (Adams and St. Helens). Evaluate your long-term goals before you buy: If you plan to climb a mountain like Rainier only once or twice in your life, think about renting the gear you need. But if skiing big mountains like Adams is fast becoming a passion, a smart purchase now will save you money over time. Here’s what worked best for each. —M.P.
A: Mount Rainer
Save weight somewhere else. In an emergency, your ax needs to have sufficient length and girth so you can plunge the shaft into the snow, slap a carabiner through the eyelet on the adze, and trust that it’ll hold the guy on your rope team who’s dangling in that crevasse. The REI Mountain 2 Ice Axe ($70; we photographed a ten-year-old model) doesn’t have an ergonomic grip or any fancy titanium machine work you don’t need. Buy it long enough (6 sizes, 65 to 90 centimeters) so you can use it like a miniature walking stick on steep terrain.
Climbing helmets are basically hard hats: An X of webbing suspends a plastic shell two inches above your head, but instead of protecting the top of your skull from dropped hammers, it shields you from falling rock and ice. You can spend more, but the Petzl Ecrin Roc ($74) will withstand multiple hits and works extremely well with Petzl’s popular headlamps. Problem is, climbing helmets don’t insulate, so you’ll need a skullcap underneath.
To haul 50 pounds of gear, food, and water up 5,000 feet, you’ll need a pack with between 5,000 and 6,000 cubic inches of volume—any more and you’ll be tempted to carry too much; any less, not enough. Many of us tried new packs on Rainier, but we weren’t thrilled with any of them. The lesson? Find a pack that fits, buy it, and never let it go. Those of us who used trusted old packs fared best. For a starting point, check out L.L. Bean’s affordable but top-quality Guide Series Expedition Pack ($265). It’s loaded with ski-mountaineering-friendly features, expands to 5,425 ci, and compresses beautifully for summit attempts.
B: Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens
If your ax is big and heavy, you won’t take it skiing with you; it’s that simple. But with the 9.5-ounce Grivel Nepal Light ($98; three sizes, 53 to 66 centimeters) on your pack, you can forget about it until you need it. And need it you will. Headwalls can be steeper up close than they look from below. Daggering in with the pick of your ax can make short work of the final push. Or enable you to self-arrest if you fall trying.
Why not use your climbing helmet as your ski helmet? Because simple climbing helmets protect the top of your head from multiple light impacts, but when you crash on skis you’re more likely to smack the front, side, or back of your head, once—and hard. Ski lids, like the Boeri Shorty ($120), therefore, are one-hit wonders like bike helmets. Expanded polystyrene beneath a thin plastic shell absorbs the impact by shattering. And polystyrene is an excellent insulator, keeping you warm for the descent. Sure would be nice, though, if one helmet worked for both types of activities and impacts.
Down jacket, goggles, water, shovel, avalanche probe, harness, rope, sub sandwich. That’s the bulk of what you cram into a ski pack for a single-day push. If you can skin the entire way up, go minimalist with a two-pound pack. But if you’re forced to carry your skis on a long approach, consider the increased stability of the 3-pound, 8-ounce Osprey Eclipse 42 ($190). With a full U-shaped zipper around the back panel and a lightning-fast ski- or board-retention system, the 2,600-cubic-inch Eclipse incorporates the best features of the two earlier-edition Osprey packs we tested last June. That, with Osprey’s trademark foam-stiffened sidewalls that fold up for smaller loads (and also enable the pack to mold to the contours of your back), makes it our top choice.
Slip Not: Snow-Protection Essentials
Mountaineering is a sport that demands a large array of safety hardware that you hope you never have to use. Why? Chances are good that if you’re truly testing your pickets, flukes, pulleys, or even just your ropes, you’re a pick’s width away from becoming a lifeless Gore-Tex burrito at the bottom of an icy tomb. Here’s what you need, just in case. (1) Aluminum snow pickets come in two- or three-foot lengths and are extremely useful in anchoring your ropes, and you, to the mountain. Bang ’em into hard snow vertically or place them like a plow horizontally, and it’ll take a truck to pull them free. (2) Flukes work like boat anchors, burrowing ever deeper under load. When placed correctly (angled back, cables taut), they work well in loose, powdery snow—even three guys reefing on a well-placed fluke couldn’t make it pop. (3) Use a screw when the surface is too icy and steep for flukes or pickets, but be sure to chop through the surface crud to get to the solid ice below. (4) Use a locking carabiner to connect your harness to the rope and the rope to belay anchors. (5) Wire gates are less prone than locking ‘biners to freezing shut; use them for clipping runners to pickets, flukes, and screws. (6) Although a Münter hitch can replace a belay device if you know how to tie one, guides will tell you an ATC or Jaws belay device is indispensable on the glacier. Using such friction plates to provide belays over crevasses or up short, steep sections is often too time-consuming when other methods will suffice, but the device is worth its weight during rescues. Use it to rappel into a crevasse to help a fallen victim, or set it next to a pulley to help feed rope smoothly when hauling the victim out. (7) Fifty meters of 9 millimeter rope is sufficient for one rope team. Make sure you use a “dry” rope, one that has been treated with a polyurethane coating to repel water. Reason: A wet rope is heavier and about half as strong as a dry one. —T.N.
Climbing-skin manufacturers tend to make bold claims about how much better their skins glide and grip than those of their competitors. Don’t believe them. Natural mohair, nylon mohair, blends of the two—hell, mohair pulled from the ass of virgin snow monkeys, it doesn’t seem to matter; they all glide reasonably smoothly and grip exceedingly well. Don’t, however, try to save a few dollars and buy plastic skins. They won’t glide, won’t grip on ice, and the plastic straps that hold them on the ski break in less than a season. We like these Low-Fat Climbing Skins from Backcountry Access ($80 to $120 depending on width) because they’re lightweight and can be trimmed for an exact fit on fat skis. Ascension and Life-Link also make top-notch products. —M.P.
To climb the slopes you want to ski, you’ll need 12-point, semirigid crampons—two toothy plates connected by an adjustable metal bar. The flex between the plates allows for a better fit and helps prevent snow from balling up underneath (which will cork the points and cause you to slip). Although some crampons attach with cinch straps, for AT or dedicated mountaineering boots, we recommend the Black Diamond Sabretooths ($135). The Sabretooths are step-in crampons with stainless-steel heel and toe bails, which make them a breeze to put on with popsicle fingers at midnight. Other step-in and strap models are available from Charlet Moser and Grivel —T.N.