Two years ago I began investing in ski mountaineering equipment with the intent of climbing some of the cascade volcanoes with the benefit of skiing down. However, my ski mountaineering gear has taken me far beyond the summits I originally purchased it to climb. It has become my most common method of travel in the mountains. The main benefits are efficiency of travel and the added fun of skiing. If you travel in the mountains when snow is on the ground, then ski mountaineering gear can open a whole new world of opportunity.
The efficiency of travel is greatly increased for a few reasons. When you travel downhill, gravity and ski gear do the work at many times the speed of walking. During cross country travel, skis float on top of snow that otherwise can make travel slow and miserable. When going uphill, heel risers alleviate a great deal of calf strain and climbing skins make each step very predictable. During the spring, this efficiency provides access to wilderness areas like Three Sisters, Steens Mountain, or Crater Rock where most people must wait until the snow melts before they can hike in. This gear also reduces the challenge of long snow covered approaches to isolated summits that notoriously difficult to reach during the winter. Examples include Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and the Three Sisters.
Another surprise for me is the simple joy of earning turns in the backcountry. While backcountry skiing is available all winter, Oregon and Washington have glaciers and snow fields that can be skied year round. Ski mountaineering equipment can be used just out of bounds at resorts, or deep in the wilderness. Regardless, the focus on mountaineering has pushed the industry to make stronger, lighter, more durable gear than ever before. This versatility allows for any type of skiing desired.
Consider these items when purchasing your ski mountaineering gear. The boots need to be comfortable, light, durable, and warm. They must also be flexible when walking, and rigid enough for skiing. This is a tall order so shop around. My current boots, the Dynafit TLT 5 Mountain TF-X, meet all the criteria listed above. Next, climbing skins need to be light and have good grip/glide on snow. My favorite skins are the Colltex Extreme CT40+. Ski bindings need to be very strong and light. I love my new Dynafit Speed Radicals, but multiple options exist. Finally, you need good AT all-mountain skis for every possible snow condition available. Stop by US Outdoor to open up a whole new world of snow covered backcountry travel with new ski mountaineering gear.