The best ski gear shaped by the backcountry craze. So long, stiff boots
SINCE In the late 1960s, when leather ski boots were forgotten by the advent of plastic shells offering better control, alpine skiers paid the price. Between runs, plastic ski boots let them wobble along icy walkways – their ankles locked – on hard, slick soles.
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So when longtime skier Deirdre O’Mara discovered boots that combined the best features of a flexible boot for ski touring – in which skiers climb ungroomed mountains and then descend them – with a rugged alpine pattern. , she grabbed the first pair she could find. For the former product designer who skis at resorts and helisks in Alaska, the Dalbello Lupos hybrid was a good choice. âI wanted a station weight alpine boot, but also a walk mode to stand, walk or just relax at lunch,â said the 48-year-old. The high-grip soles of its new boots also provided better traction on slippery surfaces.
Grippy boot soles might not seem like an exciting development, but this feature is one of a handful of practical improvements that the formerly marginalized but now influential cross-country ski scene has introduced into alpine ski gear (or station). Sales of hiking equipment have quadrupled in the past five years, according to data from the NPD Group market research. The rise in popularity has prompted manufacturers to apply backcountry, or “out of bounds” developments to alpine or inbound equipment.
During the climb, off-piste boots should give skiers enough ankle flexibility to achieve a more natural stride and enough traction to grip rocks and snow. Backcountry enthusiasts also want stronger, more versatile outerwear layers for tackling unpredictable conditions, and high-performance but still lighter skis for traveling uphill. âThe growth in interest from cross-country skiers has forced manufacturers to find unconventional solutions to improve the mobility of skis and boots, while also meeting the demand for downhill performance,â said Matthew Sterbenz, Managing Director from WNDR Alpine, a Salt Lake City ski maker.
In July, the International Organization for Standardization approved the new GripWalk sole as an industry standard, ensuring compatibility between new bindings and boots from different manufacturers. This movement, along with new types of skis and accessories, marks a rare development in the industry. Here, our recommendations.
Alpine resort equipment that reflects the influence of the hinterland craze
The influence of the hinterland: Skiers who ascend the mountain using their own power need their skis to be as light as possible, without losing characteristics like edge hold (to catch snow), stability and responsiveness for the descent. Now, some alpine skis adopt the same formula.
Our selection : New WNDR Alpine Intention 110s are all-terrain and all-conditions skis in a versatile width that weigh just over 4 pounds each, less than the 5 pounds and more typical of resort skis.
Why we love them: Aspen wood cores and an algal polyurethane laminate produce crisp, lightweight skis that are less tiring to ski all day and reduce the amount of torque on skiers’ knees. And, despite their relatively light weight, they still react powerfully and smoothly in all conditions, from ice to bumps and, of course, powder.
Concerns: WNDR skis are designed for more advanced and balanced skiers. Beginners might find them a bit more difficult to control. $ 699, wndr-alpine.com
The influence of the hinterland: Boots with âWalk Modeâ for increased flexibility when climbing and ergonomic rubber soles are a priority for the ski touring team. âAs shoes and soles developed for traveling in the backcountry become more and more common, we realized that it would also help the average skier,â said Geoff Curtis, vice president of marketing for Marker / Dalbello, who developed and licensed GripWalk.
Our selection : the Fischer Ranger 120 Walk DYN prove that the new grippy soles and improved walk mode (which once left boots insufficiently supported in ski mode) are compatible with traditional alpine performance boots.
Why we love them: Lighter curls, liners and a thinner Grilamid shell help reduce weight. A lever on the cuff releases it from the lock for easy walk and after relaxation. Just turn it over to lock it securely to speed up the descent. This line also offers a range of stiffnesses to suit both gentle skiers and old runners.
Concerns: Skiers should remember to switch from walk mode to ski mode at the top of the slope, otherwise they will lose control. And to ski safely, GripWalk boots require new compatible bindings, such as this season’s Marker Squire 11, which feature a toe plate that conforms to the curvature of the sole. $ 700, fischersports.com, $ 280, marker.net
The influence of the hinterland: Backcountry skiers concerned about weight and airflow when hiking in hill-inspired helmets that provide superior ventilation.
Our selection : Backcountry adjustments like enlarged vents and a thicker polycarbonate shell make the POC Obex BC MIPS a first choice for more comfort and protection during daily skiing in the resort.
Why we love it: The POC Obex incorporates MIPS (a system for reducing the force of impact on the head) and a near-field communication chip that rescuers can scan to access your medical information. In addition, the air vents help remove sweat from the head of the helmet.
Concerns: Some skiers might shy away from the conspicuous POC helmet, which appears taller than its peers. $ 250, na.pocsports.com
4. Snow pants
The influence of the hinterland: Many backcountry people love the added protection offered by bib snow pants on snow capped peaks. As pro freeskier Elizabeth Sarychev, who spends her winters snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing at resorts, puts it: âThey keep snow out of your pants when you fall. [and] I never have to worry about snow or pulling up my back.
Our selection : The classic, minimalist Patagonia PowSlayer Bibs are ideal for chairlift operators, providing a warm feeling in the waist and preventing snow and wind from seeping into blizzards or heavy shortness of breath.
Why we love them: Unlike childhood insulated snowman suits, the pants’ GoreTex Pro fabric provides bulk-less protection with plenty of room to layer depending on weather conditions. The long ventilation slits at the thighs allow air circulation.
Concerns: If you’re concerned about appearances, bibs convey sophistication to the crowd, but can seem childish to others. $ 599, patagonia.com
The influence of the hinterland: Skiers climbing hills heat up, but still need protection from the elements atop windy peaks.
Our selection : Windproof and waterproof Mammut Haldigrat.
Why we love it: 3-layer stretch material and oversized vents that open and close with a zip make this a super flexible jacket that you won’t overheat in.
Concerns: Not as isolated as some competitors, so skiers need to pay attention to the forecast to properly prepare for the day. $ 469, mammut.com
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