Ski gear, Backpacker, Fall 2013 (Gear Guide)

GGF13coverSmlMy review categories for this ski-focused gear compendium included ski boots, hardshell jackets, softshell jackets, and pants. I coordinated the testing for more than 150 samples to produce reviews spanning 9 pages of the magazine.

EXCERPTS:

big-mountain charger
Black Diamond Factor MX/Shiva MX Ski Boots
The more committing the terrain, the more testers adored the Factor MX (and women’s Shiva MX). “From its downhill performance, you’d never suspect this was a touring boot,” says one ripper, who exploited its exceptional energy transfer and responsiveness on the steep, chute-ridden escarpments of Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness. Credit Black Diamond’s MX innovation, which allows ski bindings to clamp directly onto the boot’s stiff shell (most bindings grip the softer sole, which flexes enough to compromise downhill control). The 130 flex* (110 on the Shiva MX) appeals to hard-charging, heavy skiers, who issued props for its game-changing control on steeps, crud, and hard snow. “I noticed an instant improvement in my skiing, particularly in tough terrain,” one says. Yet it’s a bona fide touring boot, thanks to the walk mode’s huge cuff range, which let our tester stride comfortably over flats, switchback up steeps, and scramble over talus on Colorado’s Independence Pass. “And the difference between modes is so obvious, I never made the mistake of starting downhill in the walk setting, like we’ve all done at some point in other AT boots,” says one tester. The Factor comes with two interchangeable soles: A lugged sole with dimples in the toe and heel to fit Dynafit-style tech bindings, and a smoother sole compatible with Fritchi-style step-in bindings. Unlike most boots, where swappable soles screw into softer plastic, the Factor’s options bolt into a steel plate to create a fully rigid platform. Meanwhile, a TPU shock absorber in the heel cushions the downhill ride. The 100mm last is more V-shaped than most to fit snugly though the heel and arch (for precise turning), with plenty of room around the toes (for warmth and comfort while touring). That, along with the plush liner, kept one tester cozy down to 3°F. But it’s almost as heavy as a resort boot, and testers reported that its urge to charge felt like overkill when cruising mellow powder fields. $769; 8 lbs. 13 oz.; m’s 24.5-30.5, w’s 23.5-26.5; blackdiamondequipment.com

year-round value
Salomon Tour Jacket
Sometimes, you get more than you pay for. After wearing the Tour atop a stormy Mt. Moosilauke in New Hampshire, backpacking in New Mexico’s Manzano Mountains, and skinning around Berthoud Pass, Colorado, three of our veteran testers declared this their favorite all-season shell, despite a price that’s $100 to $350 less than the others we tested this year. Yes, it’s built for backcountry conditions: A high, protective collar shielded one tester from frostbite during a windy, -17°F tour near Eldora, Colorado. But this shell is versatile enough for snowless climates. “The soft, almost silky fabric is so thin and light, I can easily regulate my temperature with other layers worn beneath it,” reports one tester. During steamy summer afternoons, the proprietary Climapro Storm 3L impressed testers with its breathability when they were hiking in 70°F temps in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness. Another wearer avoided overheating by opening the 12-inch (10 inches on the women’s) pit zips. Because it’s cut longer than most through the torso, the Tour doesn’t ride up when you’re scrambling. But the hood doesn’t accommodate hel- mets. And some testers griped about the fit: One slender gal wished that the trim cut was more gener- ous to accommodate cold-weather layers, while men called their profile “baggy.” $300; 14 oz. (w’s M); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; salomon.com

ski bootsminimalist
Dynafit Patroul Jacket
Backcountry devotees who value lightweight breathability above all else raved about the Patroul. This soft, supple Gore-Tex Active Shell (it’s thinner and more breathable
 than Pro Shell but less durable) jacket dissipates moisture during intense aerobic efforts. “I stayed impressively dry during a 2,000-foot sprint,” reports one randonee racer, who also appreciated the protection the Patroul provided on wind- and sleet-hammered ridgelines in Colorado’s Tenmile Range. “It was all the shelter I needed, as long as I kept moving,” he says. Compromises? Adjustability is sacrificed to bring down the jacket’s weight: Elasticized cuffs with thumb- holes secure the wrists (instead of Velcro tabs), an elasticized hem blocks drafts (no hem cord), and gathers along the sides of the hood reduce bulk. Two mesh-lined chest pockets double as vents and sit comfortably away from pack straps. There are no pit zips, but testers hardly missed them. Explains one, “The super-low weight let me wear the Patroul during race-pace efforts that would’ve made other shells overkill.” $375; 12 oz. (m’s L); m’s S-XL, w’s XS-XL; dynafit.com

best all-around
FlyLow Lab Coat
“It offers the durability, weather protection, and style of resort jackets, but it’s
light enough for bona fide touring.” That’s the conclusion of one ski-town denizen who wore the three-layer Lab Coat while hiking 13,000-foot ridges at Colorado’s Silverton Mountain, schralping Steamboat powder from bell to bell, and hut-tripping to Vance’s Cabin for mid-winter tours on the Continental Divide. Through it all, the Polartec NeoShell (and 16-inch pit zips) kept him dry and comfortable. “Only a blow-dryer could’ve done a better job of dispelling clamminess,” he declares. The 40-denier fabric repelled hours of sustained snow and showed no hint of the season’s worth of abuse it received. The hood accommodates bulky helmets, and
in conjunction with the nose-high collar, becomes a skin-saving hidey-hole in high winds. The removable powder skirt includes clever snaps that integrate with the Flylow Compound Pant ($475) to offer hazmat-level protection against snow. $500; 1 lb. 5 oz.; S-XXL; flylow.com

FallGG13 Hardshellspowder-ready
Mammut Lanin/Larain Jacket
Combining outstanding breathability with a key ski-specific feature, the Lanin (and women’s Larain) scored a home run with powder hounds dedicated to earning their turns. The supple, featherweight face fabric and Gore-Tex Active Shell membrane let one tester bust out fast dawn patrols—she stayed dry enough to avoid summit chill-down in the single-digit temperatures. Eight-inch pit zips vent heat during the stiffest climbs, and two mesh-lined chest pockets offer additional airflow. The detachable powder skirt uses grippy silicone that hugged our tester’s hips and sealed out waist-deep snow during descents in British Columbia’s Selkirks. Although the hood doesn’t accommodate bulky resort-style helmets, it cinches at the back and sides for a customizable, head-hugging fit over a beanie or minimalist bucket. $400; 13 oz. (w’s M); m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; mammut.ch

sidecountry specialist
Mountain Hardwear Compulsion/Snowtastic 3L Jacket
If you divide your time between resort and backcountry, consider this feature-rich jacket. “I love the many details that are designed especially for skiing and boarding,” says one tester, who wore it for hikes beyond resort bounaries and on the 2-mile approach to Francie’s Cabin in Colorado’s Tenmile Range. The microfleece-lined, nose-high collar and roomy hood provide welcome refuge on windy ridges and chair lifts alike. The earphone-compatible chest pocket makes it convenient to take calls while sitting or rock out while skinning, and three interior pockets hold
goggles, mid-fat skins, and/or a phone.
The powder skirt snaps onto the matching Compulsion Pant ($500, or $450 for
women’s Snowtastic) to create a snow-
proof set, and the cuffs are similarly
protective: A stretchy inner gaiter hugs
the wrist and “did wonders for keeping
snow out during super-deep conditions at Vail’s Back Bowls,” one tester
reports. Two pull-tabs on each pit
zip make for easy operation when
you have a pack on, and the Dry.Q
Elite membrane (a proprietary version of eVent) breathed adequately
during cold-weather missions. “Cresting
the ridge of 13,852-foot Crystal Peak, I hit brisk
winds but didn’t feel chilled, thanks to the jacket’s ability to transition from sweat-mover to wind-blocker,” says our tester. But its wealth of ski-specific features makes this a weightier option that’s best-suited for short tours in subfreezing temps. $650 (w’s $550); 1 lb. 11 oz.; m’s S-XXL, w’s XS-XL; mountainhardwear.com