2014 Backcountry Ski Gear Testing Throughout The Sierra Nevada

Getting ready to hit the trail
Getting ready to hit the trail

Being the ski and boot buyer here at Tahoe Mountain Sports can be a daunting job as I have to sift through literally tons of product on a regular basis to pick out what are going to be the best options for our customers and what companies are truly making the top-of-the-line gear. I have to balance fit, durability, comfort, price and of course graphics when deciding what to bring in to the shop. One of the best parts of this decision-making process is when the companies and sales reps give us a chance to test their gear in the field. This past March, I was fortunate enough to be invited on a trip down to Bishop with Sierra Mountain Guides at their hut in North Lake to test out the latest from La Sportiva, Scarpa and Arc Teryx. Just one week later I headed out to Lost Trail Lodge, outside of Truckee, to ski and test with the Tecnica and Blizzard crew. Here is a short recap of both trips and the gear I got to use:

Trip 1: North Lake, Lamarck Col, Paiute Pass – Outside of Bishop, CA

Gear: La Sportiva Hi5 Skis, Scarpa Maestrale RS Boots, Arc Teryx Beta AR Jacket

Skinning up in the am
Scarpa Maestrale RS
La Sportiva Hi5 Skis

I joined this group that consisted of buyers from four shops from all over California, three guides from Sierra Mountain Center and our La Sportiva and Scarpa sales reps. It was a lively group with folks of all ability levels, and since there were a few of us that were there for the uphill skinning and steeper downhill skiing, we quickly broke off from the less experience skiers. We gained some great vert and had some pretty awesome turns all day long, both powder and hard snow. This was an area of the Sierra Nevada I had never toured in before so it was exciting to check out new terrain, especially the Lamarck Col and Paiute Pass areas.

As for the gear, I have positives and negatives to share, though I will not bash certain pieces of equipment as the conditions were challenging and perhaps the gear was not intended for the challenge at-hand. First and foremost of the successful gear was the Scarpa Maestrale RS boots and Arc Teryx Beta AR jacket. I had not been on a pair of Scarpa boots in a long time as I have a wider forefoot and Garmont had been my boot of choice for many years. I slipped these Scarpa’s on in the parking lot and never looked back for two days. My foot fit pretty comfortably in the boot right from the start. The full angle of rotation from tour to ski-mode was very smooth and efficient, the boot was comfortable to walk in whether on skis or just on dirt, and it really did ski better than almost any Garmont boot I have been on lately. The most impressive part of the boot was its stiffness in ski-mode, but its ease of walking in tour-mode was equally impressive. My only gripe might be the sensitivity of the buckles and the fact that they are very snappy and a few times I whacked my fingers just getting the buckles on and off.

The Arc’Teryx Beta AR jacket is a truly a ski jacket that has few rivals. The main thing to say is that this jacket is super lightweight, fully GoreTex’d out so its waterproof and breathable (Gore Tex Pro Shell, to be exact), and there are zero bells and whistles. I like that! Pockets are alpine style so they are up around the chest, long pit zips, articulated hood that fits even the biggest of ski helmets, waterproof zips all around and a single inside pocket. If you are looking for a minimalist shell that will keep you protected through snow, wind, rain and whatever else mama nature can throw at you, this might be it. Arc’Teryx’s notorious attention to detail and highest quality of workmanship shine in this awesome jacket.

Finally, my La Sportiva gear. I won’t go into too much detail here but this stuff was my least favorite gear of all my testing. The skis were okay; a little soft for my liking but they did turn quickly, the tips stayed up when I needed them to and they held me pretty well. The bindings and skins on the other hand did not hold up and in fact failed on the trip. The joint in the toe piece on the RT binding broke upon coming into contact with a tree and the skin tails ripped right out after a few transitions. I think La Sportiva is working out the kinks on this gear in particular so I look forward to testing it again in the future.

Skinning in the Sierra Nevada

Trip 2: Lost Trail Lodge, Coldstream Canyon – Outside of Truckee, CA
Gear: Tecnica Cochise Pro Light, Blizzard Scout 177, Dynafit FT12 130 Bindings

After the windy, cold snow on the Bishop trip, this one started with a nice rain storm at the trailhead that we all hoped was turning to pow at elevation. Regardless, it was a long, wet slog into the lodge and once there, the motivation factor for going further was practically nonexistent. Since there was plenty of beer and booze, that became the choice for the afternoon while we all hoped that the snow was hitting hard just a bit higher than we were.

Luckily, we were right. Waking to bluebird skies and a report of up to 18-inches of fresh on the Sierra Crest, we quickly skinned up, hopped on our gear and started up.

Blizzard Scout with Dynafit FT Radical Bindings
Lost Trail Lodge

All of the gear I tested on this trip has made the cut and will be available at Tahoe Mountain Sports for the ’13-14 season. I was thoroughly impressed with Tecnica/Blizzard’s entry into the backcountry market and think they will be a huge hit. The Cochise Pro Light is already on the market and has been winning praises all-around. I am in the same boat as this boot is a true winner. It skis the downhills like you would expect a Tecnica alpine boot to ski, it is stiff and keeps you far forward, is extremely comfortable right out of the box and has enough strength to push around even the burliest of skis, let alone a backcountry touring ski. What you don’t expect from this boot is how well it hikes. A simple tug on the pull tab at the heel releases the locking mechanism and bam!, you have a huge amount of cuff-rotation and it is smooth, not clunky like with some other boots. Again, this boot fit well out of the box with a fairly wide forefoot and snug heel. I didn’t get a single blister or any hot spots during two full days of hiking and skiing this boot. This is not the lightest boot like the Maestrale RS or a Black Diamond Quandrant, but it is way more powerful and is intended for that skier who wants one boot to do it all, both in-bounds and in the backcountry.

The Blizzard Scout is new for Fall 2013 and you will be able to find it on our ski wall come September. Again, this boot is just like the Cochise in my opinion. It’s not the lightest choice out there, but if you want one ski to do it all, look no further than the Blizzard Scout. At 110mm under-foot, this ski can float on the pow, but can also rip the hard pack, mank, or really, whatever you throw at it with absolutely no problem. It was solid under-foot, turned tighter than I expected and was easily controlled at high speeds. In my opinion, this is going to be one of the hottest skis for 2013-2014 because of its versatility and all around excellent performance.

A big “Thank You” to all the sales reps and companies that made these trips possible. They are one of the most valuable tools that I, as a buyer, can use to decide what gear to carry and then inform our customers of the results. Here are a couple more pics for your viewing pleasure…..

Looking towards the Sierra Crest
Your author, testing out all the gear
Bluebird backcountry ski day

Dynafit Crampons 120mm
MSRP: $69.95

Poc Receptor Backcountry Helmet
MSRP: $249.95

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