Expert Advice: Gear Successes On Denali With Pro Skier Brody Leven

Brody Leven is a professional skier, author and all-around badass residing in Salt Lake City. His work has been featured by Red Bull, Teton Gravity Research, Freeskier Magazine, Powder Magazine,…the list goes on. He recently returned from an epic ski-mountaineering trip on Denali with big dogs like world-renowned climber Conrad Anker and big-mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones, and Tahoe Mountain Sports is stoked to share this summary of Brody’s most memorable gear on “The High One”, North America’s tallest mountain peak. Do your best to keep up with Brody on Twitter: @brodyleven


I was the only person with the mad scientist glasses, but everyone on the glacier had some sort of sun protection for eyeballs. Glacier glasses have extremely dark lenses and a snug fit, effectively eliminating snow blindness from the list of mountaineering experiences. Most Denali climbers also choose to use a nose guard, like the NozKone one I bought in Anchorage for $4.99. It isn’t as distinct as those that Conrad Anker gave each member of our team—made out of one of his old Everest summit hats—but it covered my entire nose and fit well on my glasses. Don’t forget to lather up the bottom and inside of your nose, though; my nose was crusty and uncomfortable most of the trip. By the end of our climb, I was sleeping in my Julbo glacier glasses. Not only is it still bright in the middle of the night, but the bright yellow tents magnify the light, making you squint, in your tent, at three o’clock in the morning.

True story: Before leaving for Alaska, I tried on all of the glacier glasses at the shop. As soon as I put these on, I thought, Man, these are It. Just what I imagined myself wearing. Perfect. But isn’t everyone else going to have them, since they’re obviously the coolest pair of the bunch?
Well, as it turns out, no one else on the entire mountain had them, and I spent a month getting made fun of.

goal zero solar panel
You can charge almost anything (simultaneously) with a Goal Zero solar panel.
Goal Zero solar panels were everywhere – glacier glasses, not so much :(

The sun charged our electronics. But it often hides behind clouds, snow, storms, or some really cool glacier glasses that you bought, kinda as a joke, but ended up never removing. With just a few pounds of Goal Zero solar panels and power packs, our 14-person team was able to keep our collection of cameras, phones, laptops, e-books, iPods, and GoPro Hero5 Black charged by harnessing the free, healthy, and sustainable power of the sun.
I can’t believe we didn’t start a farmer’s market up there, too.

Brody Leven skis off the summit in Dynafit – yes, DYNAFIT – boots and bindings.

Skiing down vs. walking down. I’ve done a lot of walk-up/walk-down mountaineering in my short mountain life. A climbing trip to Peru a few years ago solidified my preference for skiing down after climbing up. And when I got altitude sickness on Denali, I may have not been able to descend fast enough (or surefooted enough) if I had to downclimb. On skis, though, I was able to get down and get rid of that darn headache.

Granted, a lot of people approach skiers on the mountain like this: Oh yeah, cool, nice skis. I’m a skier too. I totally would have brought them, I just, um, are those Dynafit bindings? Sweet yeah I have Dynafits, too. But I usually ski really hard so I need Dukes, you know? What’re those underfoot? Oh cool yeah mine are 130. I ski a ton of powder. Oh, him? Yeah he’s my friend, well, I mean, he’s my guide, but, you know I’ve climbed tons of mountains, I’m totally self-sufficient, I just, (guide: “Diiiinner’s reeeeaaady!!!”) yeah, um, yeah I wish I would have brought my skis. K bye.

Jermey Jones (front) and the crew use kiddie sleds to transport gear.

Kiddie sleds are for more than kiddie sledding. It’s unbelievable that these $5 sleds from the toy store are the lifeblood of Denali gear hauling. Every climber on the mountain has more food, gear, and fuel than they can carry in a backpack. This is where those stupid little sleds are essential.

Slide on sled. Tow gear with sled. Eat from sled.
Your sled WILL continuously throw you off-balance.

Everyone fashions their own way of pulling the sled. The system of sled hauling is far from perfect, so it almost doesn’t matter how it’s attached to the climber. When going downhill, it is going to have a mind of its own. When going uphill, it is going to suddenly become 10 times heavier. When sidehilling, it is going to act as though it is actually about to stay in your track…and then slip downhill at the least convenient time, almost pulling you with it.

But for as much as everyone yells at their sled, convinced it’s heavier and less cooperative than everyone else’s (–it isn’t–), staying lighthearted about the nuisance that keeps you on the mountain long enough to actually climb it is essential to sanity.

Ryan Hudson (left) and Max Lowe with Brody and his super-smart Suunto watch.

Wrist watches are more fun than computers! Well, at least when there isn’t a computer to play with. Keeping it charged via USB with my Goal Zero gear, my Suunto Ambit2 became my best friend on the mountain, offering everything that any good best friend would: advice (Don’t go up! A storm is coming! Don’t you see this barometric pressure decrease? I swear you’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached, dumby!), a sleepover partner (Oh you’re sleeping? Well guess what!? Pillow fight! DING DING DING. It’s time to wake up and climb, idiot!), and altitude information (You’re standing on top a summit, which you’ve known the altitude of since you were 13-years-old. Did you really need me to tell you? You’re such a dufus sometimes!).
One of my favorite parts about my Suunto watch is its ability to draw my route on a Google Earth map. All of my days on Denali are on my Movescount page.

Conrad Anker skinning uphill on his Dynafit setup. Nice weight load, eh?

Unless you plan on walking down (or snowboarding, which is debatably worse than logrolling down the mountain), a Dynafit setup is unquestionably the only way to go. Every single skier on the mountain—with the exception of one Duke-user that I saw at 11,200 feet and never saw again—was using Dynafit bindings. Most were using Dynafit boots, as well. The lightweight, durable and trustworthy nature of this boot/binding system rivals anything else on the market. I ski with them literally every single day, without brakes on my bindings and without tongues in my boots, and have full confidence in their ability to perform in any situation/country/ice climbing route in which I find myself. Yes, I also hit cliffs with them.

Got Gear?

Our selection of MSR and Jetboil stoves functioned perfectly with proper maintenance, melting snow to water as often as someone was willing to sit there and scoop in snow chunks; our selection of tents from The North Face (including our Dome 8 cook tent) didn’t flinch at the midnight Denali winds; and the National Park Service-provided Clean Mountain Cans were…well, they did what they were designed to do. Now is the time to plan your expedition for next year. But when you are trying on sunglasses the day before you leave and find the pair that you will buy without hesitation, hesitate.

All photos courtesy of Brody Leven

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