While packing this morning for a day ski touring, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet done a proper online pack explosion. Given that the spring ski mountaineering season is right around the corner, I thought I would share my gear system with you for longer ski tours. The system described below is by no means completely exhaustive, however this seems to be my baseline, then I add or subtract based on venue and specific goals (i.e. ski the gnar or teach full snow profiles in an avalanche course).

First, let’s start off discussing my pack. The saying goes “the skin track is the signature of the ski guide”. If this is true, then a guide’s backpack is his “trademark” and it should reflect careful attention to detail, and exemplify professionalism and well thought out simplicity. In my quiver of backpacks (and believe me it is a quiver) the two packs that receive the most playing time for skiing are the Arcteryx Arrakis 40 and the Mammut/Snowpulse RAS 30.

The best features in a ski pack are subtle, yet functional. Perhaps a shovel/probe compartment and a simple ski carry system are all that is truly necessary. I use my Arrakis on more technical terrain or on longer tours where more gear is needed, and use the Mammut/Snowpulse RAS 30 for tours where higher capacity is not needed and an Airbag seems appropriate for the terrain. For years, I skied with a simple 35L alpine climbing pack, and still find that simpler is better when it comes to technical packs.

Enough about how sweet my backpacks are, let’s have a look at what I carry inside that beast. Generally, this is the equipment that I carry for technical, glaciated ski mountaineering trips. For general day to day backcountry powder skiing, most of the sharp things (crampons, axe, beefier harness, ice screws) stay at home and the fat skis come out of the gear room. This item-by-item list is perfect for any advanced level recreational ski mountaineer or guest embarking on a glaciated ski tour with a guide. I’ve also included items more guide or “trip-leader” specific items and marked them with an asterisk (**).

  • Skis: Kastle FX 104 Lightweight skis are great, provided they ski worth their weight. The FX104 is my daily driver because it uses a titanal base and top sheet of 0.3 mm each, which makes this ski stable and responsive in firm and variable snow conditions. Pictured here are a pair of dynafit skis, but I prefer skis with more guts these days.
  • Bindings: PLUM Guide. Simple, Lightweight, strong and adjustable.

  • Poles: an adjustable carbon two section pole works well. I’ve also been using fixed length poles a lot lately for tours without long flat sections.
  • Skins: Mohair or synthetic. Fit to the waist of the ski rather than “wall to wall” carpet.
  • Boots: Scarpa Maestrale RS or Dynafit Titan. Just about every boot manufacturer makes a nice lightweight ski mountaineering boot. Touring boot choice is a matter of preference and most importantly, fit.
  • Dynafit ski crampons aka harscheisen:¬† These are must especially when firm conditions are expected! Ski crampons are tremendously effective on steep and buffed skin tracks as well. It can be the difference between a tenuous core work-out or a casual stroll.
  • Shovel: Metal blade, durable.
  • Probe: has to be easy to assemble and cannot be ‘probe’ ski poles. minimum of 240 cm long.
  • Hat, Buff, Balaclava- all three especially in high mountains
  • Gloves: (2) thin for the uphill, warm/all leather for the down. I use the OR Extravert for the uphill and the OR Crave Glove for downhill.
  • Goggles with low light lenses. A sensor mirror type lens works well for all conditions.
  • Sunglasses
  • Digital Camera: I use the Panasonic GH2 when I want something more powerful, otherwise I use the iphone 4s with a Lifeproof case.
  • **GPS Unit: as well as the knowledge to use it.
  • **Tri-Band Radio: I use the Yaesu Vx-6r for it’s waterproof design and ease of use. This powerful tool is very important for emergency communications with outside support, or with other guides in your group.
  • Bivy Sack/Tarp: I like the Brooks-Range Guides Tarp. It’s lightweight and simple. Perfect for an emergency shelter system.
  • **Rescue Sled: This product is highly specific, but priceless when you need it. Check out Brooks-Range for more information on these great rescue products.
  • Basic First Aid Kit: Just basic stuff to stop big bleeds and evacuate a patient.
  • Repair Kit: My ever evolving repair kit includes and extra headlamp and is bigger than my first aid kit. My friend, Joe Stock, put together a nice repair kit list that is very similar to my kit. Know your system and it’s weak links. For example, I know that a broken binding toe piece is much harder (if not impossible) to repair than a heel piece in the field. Thus I carry an extra binding toe.
  • **Skin Wax and Scraper: Skin wax to keep your skins from balling up, a scraper to clean your partners’ skis off at every transition.
  • Insulated Jacket: puffy coat, duvet coat, call it what you will, but this is perhaps the most essential piece in the kit. The OR Transcendent Sweater is an excellent lighter weight coat that suits warmer weather nicely or if you are more into synthetic I also use the Brooks-Range¬† Cirro Hoody.

Items more specific to glacier travel or technical terrain:

  • Harness (lightweight) the CAMP Coral is pictured, others nice light harnesses from arcteryx or the Black Diamond Couloir.
  • **Crevasse Rescue Kit: This certainly varies, but my non mechanical system uses three locking carabiners, 4 non-locking carabiners, four slings or cords (shoulder length) and one 16cm ice screw and perhaps one cordelette kept in the backpack. All are the lightest possible materials.
  • **40m Half Rope: I like the 40m length in order to complete a drop-loop system for adequate crevasse rescue. The Sterling Evolution 8.4 works well.
  • Boot Crampons: Pictured here are an old reliable pair- Step in system is best for ski boots, easy to use, relatively light weight. If ice and rock are expected steel crampons will be worth the extra weight compared to aluminum.
  • Mountaineering Axe: Pictured here is the Petzl Snowracer. I use it because of the steel head, but still very light weight. I don’t personally go any lighter as I’ve had bad experiences with aluminum headed axes… While we’re on the subject of piolets: shorter is better. For me @ 5’11”- 50cm is perfect as it fits inside my pack while skiing, and when terrain is steep enough to necessitate the extra security of an axe, it is the perfect length.
  • Vacuum Bottle: a nice stainless steel bottle.
  • Water Bottle: an old juice or sports drink bottle works well.
  • Food: for me a couple of sandwiches and plenty of snack food along the way. I try (with varying levels of success) to stay away from bars and stick with real food when possible.

** items more guide or “trip-leader” specific items and marked them with an asterisk **

Building a system that works well for you will take time, and many of the more expensive items can be rented or demoed from more specific retailers. If you have any questions about any of this gear, please feel free to contact me directly or leave a comment below.