As of November Tahoe is a go for backcountry skiing! Skin tracks are in everywhere and if you haven’t been out you’ve been missing out!
Earlier this fall I dug through what was left over from the last time I skinned up in the spring and was wondering what other people drag around back there. In the past I’ve seen tiny packs open up to reveal softshell jackets with fur lined hoods, been handed golden chocolate pirate’s booty during a raging storm on Christmas, cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon on top of Jake’s, broken single poles, bottles of spectacular home brewed beer, slices of pizza, avalanche beacons without batteries, McDonald’s hamburgers; among many other odd items of leftover food and gear ranging from the versatile to the useless.
On an average winter day I try to go light, but not ultralight. A little extra never hurt and I prefer to be prepared or at least have items that are versatile and can be used for various purposes (ie. athletic tape). So apart from the mandatory shovel and probe here we go….
So digging through my 30 liter ski pack what do I find. First of all lets start with clothing. I’ve got cold fingers from years of frostbite nordic ski racing in Minnesota. I always have a spare pair of warm gloves and then a pair of mittens. Sometimes I use them others not and this is obviously dependent on season; mittens for skiing spring corn would be overkill, as well as the next item. A lightweight insulated jacket. I’ve got a Mountain Hardwear Compressor that I’ll throw on at the top while I’m waiting for everyone to catch up, ha, I said it, no modesty here, waiting at the top!!! Finally I’ll bring with a light weight hardshell jacket (Marmot Precip or Arc’teryx Alpha LT) and pants (Gore PacLite) just in case the weather goes sour. I rarely break these out but when I need them they sure are nice! And that’s about it. Some other people I know carry a fresh base layer, extra warm hat, or helmet. The clothing you bring with (and wear) is a personal choice. I run really warm normally (except for my hands), however you may be a colder person and need a little extra warmth for the ride down. Definitely things to consider.
I’m anti-goggle for the ski down and prefer to wear a visor and sunglasses for the skin up. However the goggles seem to live in the pack just to be safe. Storm days and when it’s face shots they are mandatory. Speaking of the visor, I think a visor (preferably a Headsweats visor) or light weight hat is an important piece for the skin up. I’ll keep a visor and winter hat on hand and swap them in and out of my pocket on the skin up as needed. A baseball type cap is key for those who are follically challenged.
I like to drink a lot, of water that is. So I carry with me a 3 liter Platypus Big Zip. You don’t have to fill it up all the way so if it’s a short day go easy to save some weight. I like the Big Zip especially in the spring for ease of filling with snow to melt with what water I have left. The bite valve freezes up sometimes but be sure to blow the water back into the reservoir and if it freezes up tuck the valve either against your chest in your jacket or between your pack and back to thaw it. Just be sure to close it off with a shut off valve so it doesn’t leak!
Skin wax, piece of closed cell foam to sit on in the snow, a pair of leashes for my bindings just in case (I roll with Dynafit Speeds, no brakes), sunscreen (be sure to use it!)
Emergency/repair kit with a spare basket, athletic tape, a couple three of the infamous Voile ski straps (the 18 or 24 inchers!), a Black Diamond Binding Buddy, some zip ties (big n’ burly ones), a spare Dynafit Speedskin rubber tip thing (or a tip loop) for my skins, extra food (a few Gu’s, an old Powerbar), some ibuprofen, misc binding spare parts (for example depending on your binding choice: screws, heel wire, toe piece, or a tele cable), a small Leatherman, a map and compass (and knowledge HOW TO USE THEM), a Petzl Zipka headlamp, a whistle, cigarette lighter , a plastic scraper for scraping snow, ice, dog poop or whatever off of skis or skins. Oh, and a digital camera, since no one else seems to carry one.
Leave the cheat sheets for your skins at home and use that skin bag for your lunch. Some people prefer energy gels and bars, others a full blown lunch or leftovers. I like a mix of these things and usually end up grabbing what I’ve got on hand which sometimes amounts to not enough for a full day out skiing. But thankfully I’ve always had killer ski partners that are willing to share so I can avoid eating pine cones hoping for the placebo effect to kick in.
Condition dependent items. Obviously as the weather warms or if we get a cold snap clothing options change and the pack can get lighter or heavier. These few things are also considered depending on conditions and are sometimes there but not always: Harscheisen (ski crampons) or boot crampons, and a small thermos full of Chinese gunpowder green tea or uber strong coffee.
So you may be wondering why no first aid kit? Well in my experience most issues can be solved with athletic tape, ibuprofen, and a little ingenuity. Honestly the best thing you can do is educate yourself. Take a Wilderness First Aid or First Responder course. If you are in an area with mobile phone reception a phone may be the best first aid item you carry.
So that’s about it. Keep it simple and your day will be more enjoyable but have the necessities and knowledge to get yourself out ok if needed. If you think of anything else that you feel is necessary or ridiculous that you’ve seen in a ski pack post a comment. Also if you’re still looking for holiday gifts there are a ton of things we just went over that could work out quite well!