Mid-winter Backcountry Ski Gear Test: Jackson Hole

Few places have the access to steep, long, backcountry runs like the Jackson Hole region–whether it’s off Teton Pass, in the Snake River Range, or even the gnarly sidecountry off of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Having just returned from a week-long sampling of all those destinations, we found that what all three spots have in common is that they are well loved. In fact, it’s somewhat of a race to get fresh tracks out there. To that end, you want reliable gear that will let you travel fast without sacrificing reliability or safety. Here’s a handful of products that bore up well in the Jackson Backcountry.

Rock Springs in the Jackson Sidecountry
Rock Springs in the Jackson sidecountry

Dynafit Titan: With skiers pushing more and more monstrous skis into the backcountry, weight-obsessed Italian backcountry ski company Dynafit rolled out the Titan, a boot stiff enough to shred inbounds everyday, yet sufficiently light (4.5 pounds per boot) enough to haul massive powderboards up a skin track. Exhibit 1: Titans come standard with interchangeable touring and alpine soles for the differing bindings (rubber backcountry soles, though great for scrambling over rocks, tend to be a bit thicker in the toe and heel tongues than standard alpine boots, which means there’s the chance they’ll release less readily in a crash). Just nine screws do the trick—a 3 minute job. The Titans shave weight with micro-adjustable magnesium buckles and a stiffening lace system, but stand apart from competitors by offering an unprecedented range of motion in walk mode for the boots stiffness.

($759, speedup.dynafit.us)

Sierra Designs Flex Down Jacket

The baffles that keep the 750-fill goose down insulation in place in the Flex parka are sewn with elastic thread, allowing the jacket to stretch and bend when you do– twisting your torso down the fall line, or just reaching down to pick up what rover left there in the snow. When at rest, the elasticity snugs the jacket against your body, eliminating heat-draining dead spots—a trick they’re borrowing from the sleeping bag line. Elastic cuffs further seal out drafts, and the Flex jacket’s 100 percent recycled rip-resistant nylon shell means body heat isn’t the only thing being conserved. [$225; Sierradesigns.com]

Backcountry Access Arsenal Shovel

In uncovering avalanche victims, survival can come down to seconds. Which is why Backcountry Access created the Arsenal Shovel, which stores a standard length (240-cm ) folding probe in the handle, reducing time fumbling for gear and making for a cleaner pack. The Arsenal’s aluminum oval-shaped shaft shaves ounces without compromising strength. Already have a probe? Check out the model with the snow saw built in.

($95, backcountryaccess.com)

Black Diamond Agent Avalung Pack

Loaded with features like an insulated sleeve for your hydration system hose and a stainless steel cable to lash your planks on for boot pack ascents, it’s actually the Avalung that makes this day pack an essential piece of backcountry gear. If you are buried in an avalanche, the snorkel-like device can provide an extra 45 minutes of breath by re-directing exhaled carbon dioxide away from your face, thus delaying the formation of a suffocating ice mask.

($200, blackdiamondequipment.com)


Fritschi Diamir Eagle

Fritschi Diamir Eagle Bindings

Swiss-made Fritschis are the top selling backcountry touring bindings because they function pretty much like regular alpine bindings. In fact, they’ll work just fine with your regular alpine boots. The Eagles improve on the pivot point of previous Fritschi models, making for smoother uphill travel, and at four ponds, seven ounces, they are light enough to ease the uphill slog yet beefy enough to shred inbounds at a mountain like Jackson Hole, cliff drops and all.

($420, diamir.com)

Gerber Strata Multi Tool

Gerber Strata

Multi-tools have come a long way in a short time. Gerber’s latest offering features sleek, plastic molded grips so you don’t mangle your hands while cranking on the spring-loaded pliers. Additionally, every one of the 13 stainless steel outboard components locks into place for safety. The lineup features all the usual suspects, including saw, scissors, bottle/can opener, and file, and one that’s a bit unusual—a clam package opening tool for shredding those god-awful plastic packages that many products now come in (including, ironically, the Strata itself). Of course, most importantly for backcountry skiers, it sports three different screwdrivers that would fix and adjust a myriad of boot and binding situations. Though, of course, since all the above gear is so bomber, the Strata will sit largely unused in your pack.

($104, gerbergear.com)

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