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Safety First
Education is the key to maneuvering safely through the backcountry. Prior to making a serious commitment to alpine touring or backcountry skiing, we strongly advise getting some education on snow safety including how to read snow pack, use your safety equipment, and avalanche assessment and rescue. While there are many resources that provide current avalanche risks and conditions, being able to make a case by case assessment while in the mountains is critical to your safety. Please check out two of our favorite resources.
Know the conditions
No matter where you live there are great resources available to give you a better understanding of the conditions in the backcountry. While these are no substitute for snow safety education or practical training, these forecasting resources do an excellent job providing overall insight and weather trends. Armed with this information it is much easier to plan your routes and assess risks before every leaving your house.
Alpine Touring Skis
Why a touring ski?
The main feature of an ideal Touring ski is weight to power and performance ratio. Over the 1000’s of steps it takes to ascend a peak, lighter weight skis help to reduce fatigue which is why touring skis utilize more technical material and building processes. Doing this allows weight to be minimalized to match the correct amount of performance the skier expects on the way down. Ranging from ultra-light Ski-Mo which focuses exclusively on traveling up the mountain, to freeride skis which focus on getting down the hill, there is a ski that blends weight control and performance for every touring skier. While the lines between alpine ski and touring ski are being blurred more and more every season, a properly designed touring ski is going to maximize enjoyment for the ascent and the descent.
Atomic Backland Skis
Atomics Backland skis are the ideal dual discipline skis for someone starting out in Alpine Touring. These skis are based around Atomic’s ultralight woodcore making them incredibly light (weighing in at no more than 3 pounds per ski) for easy and effortless ascending. When coupled with a Carbon Backbone, which optimizes downing performance, by taking advantage of the exceptional weight to strength ratio of carbon fiber, the Backland has tremendous stability and power when you decide to descend. The Backland skis can be paired with a Hybrid Skin that fits perfectly into the AT Tip for quick and easy ski attachment.
Salomon MTN Explore Skis
Salomon’s MTN Explore skis feature the perfect combination of uphill and downhill performance for adventure touring. By incorporating CFX, an ultralight, super-strong carbon and flax material, these skis have tremendous downhill power and stability. For uphill performance, Salomon combined a 3D Woodcore, Koroyd Tip with Spaceframe 2.0 construction, to keep weight down do a maximum of 3 pounds per ski. Whether your perfect day of touring is a steep, technical ascent or just a long fun day in the backcountry, the MTN Explore skis will provide the performance you need.
Alpine Touring Boots
Why a touring boot?
Much like touring skis, touring boots are designed to blend the best in lightweight materials and technologies, without sacrificing performance. Touring boots must allow exceptional mobility while in touring or hiking mode, and be able to provide all the comfort necessary for a full day exploring the backcountry. Many brands have created downhill boots with a hike or touring feature that focus on downhill performance, while still maintaining some of the mobility of a touring boot. These can often be a good option for skiers who will occasionally be touring. However, if you want the best touring experience possible, a full-mobility touring boot, with tech inserts that are compatible with touring bindings are always going to be the best option.
Atomic Backland Boots
Atomic’s Backland boots stand out in the crowd with an exceptional natural motion in touring mode, combined with the powerful downhill performance we’ve come to love and expect from Atomic. These boots are based around a Free/Lock 2.0 hiking mechanism, a removable tongue and an Igus bushing. The Backland boots have a 74 degree range of motion designed for climbing and skimming with a frictionless feel; this means longer, more effortless strides while ascending. For all day comfort, a Platinum liner keeps feet dry with great heel retention, and the Memory Fit shell allows for a customized fit. Once you lock the Free/Lock mechanism in place, the boot has a true alpine downhill flex that offers the necessary power and control you need over your skis.
Salomon MTN Boots
The Salomon MTN Boot Collection offers both an adventure touring boot, the MTN Explore and a freeride touring boot, the S/Lab MTN. Designed for skiers looking for the ideal blend of uphill and downhill performance, the MTN Explore offers a 63 degree range of motion for efficient uphill strides, with strong downhill performance. If downhill performance is a bigger concern, the S/Lab MTN offers a more limited 47 degree range of motion and an incredible downhill performance due to its BC Carbon Spine. If you’re looking for a boot that will perform at the ski area and beyond, the MTN collection has you covered.
Alpine Touring Bindings
What are touring bindings?
Simply put, a touring binding is an alpine binding that allows the heel of to boot or binding to move, for skinning uphill and then retain the heel of the boot or binding for the descent. The most technical of these bindings are designed to be used exclusively with alpine touring boots that utilize specialized “low-tech” inserts. However, here are also touring bindings that can be used with a wide range of boots with Alpine, WTR, GripWalk, or Touring boot soles. In short, if you want to start exploring the backcountry there is a binding to meet your performance needs.
Frameless vs. Frame
There are two types of Alpine Touring bindings, those with a frame and those without, each with their own purpose. If you’re looking for a true touring binding, frameless bindings are the only option. And since they are two pieces frameless bindings are also inherently lighter weight, allowing for a more natural ski flex and a broader, smoother range of motion when touring. This all adds up to an easier time when skiing. Frameless bindings come in various forms, from ultra-light to incredibly strong, freeride bindings. For those looking for more flexibility, frame bindings are the better choice. Frame bindings rely on the heel piece of the binding being attached to the frame, so when in touring mode the heel piece of the binding is off the ski. The advantage to frame bindings is that they can be used with Apline, WTR, GripWalk or Alpine Touring soles, making them super versatile. If you don’t plan on using touring boots with “low-tech” inserts, or will be using multiple pairs of boots with one pair of skis, frame bindings are the ideal choice.
Alpine Touring Saftey Gear
Avalanche beacons are a critical component of your safety equipment when in the backcountry. If an avalanche or slide should occur, a beacon is your resource for finding people or being found. And when it comes to comparing beacons, range and antennas are your key features. The greater the range a beacon has the more like it can read a signal early in the searching process, which can shave precious time off the rescue. As for antennas, most beacons will have dual antennas for increased range and sensitivity; however, there are a few three antenna beacons options that improve accuracy and spikes in signals when performing the more precise component of your search. While the more range, antennas, and features mean better more accurate beacons, no matter your beacon choice, practice is the key to taking advantage of those features when you need them.
Other essential safety gear for touring includes a probe and a shovel. Probes typically come in aluminum or carbon fiber, and are between 200cm-320cm (79in-126in), and have some type of rapid deploy system. Carbon fiber and shorter length probes are often lighter weight, while aluminum probes provide more durability, and longer lengths ensure you have a large enough probe to find a victim. Shovels should always be constructed with a metal blade and shaft for durability. The larger the blade, the more snow you will be able to move, although more effort is required. Some shovels even have a pickaxe mode, allowing for the most modern style of rescue digging. Just like any equipment, having it is important, but knowing how to use it properly is crucial.
Why training is important
Safety gear is only as good as the person using it. Having the appropriate rescue gear is only the first small step in backcountry safety. Not only should you have a practical education in snow pack assessment and rescue, you should also know where your best avalanche forecasting resource is, and you should practice with your gear regularly. Whether you are training with certified instructors or running through beacon and shoveling exercises with friends, knowing how your equipment works before hitting the backcountry is key to remaining safe. Also, an occasional refresher class is always recommended as techniques, strategies and equipment all change over time.
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