Gear Review: Climbing Skins

This winter I extensively tested 3 of the best lightweight climbing skins available. Each skin was tested in variable conditions from super cold snow (-11 degrees Celsius) to Spring corn (0 degrees Celsius). Testing included steep skinning up to 30 degrees head on to kick turning up 40 degree terrain. Most testing occurred on Mount Washington and in the Tröllaskagi Penisula, Iceland. To better compare glide and grip I often went out with one model on one ski and another model on the other. Below are my opinions on these models.

G3 Alpinist LT Mohair, Black Diamond Ultralite Mix, Contour Hybrid Climbing Skins

G3 Alpinist LT Mohair, Black Diamond Ultralite Mix, Contour Hybrid Climbing Skins

Black Diamond Ultralite Mix STS 140mm Climbing Skins

This is the lightest and most pack-able model I tested. Installing the toe clip is a little involved but I was able to do it in less than 30 minutes. The 65% mohair and 35% nylon blend strikes a solid balance between grip and glide and I didn’t notice any issues with either characteristic. The glue is super sticky and when redeploying after folding them together it took a little more effort to separate the skins but not enough to be worthy of a negative mark. They are the softest and most fold-able skins I tested which make them extremely pack-able. The STS tail was very secure but I decided to trim the rubber adjustment belt as it felt overly long.

Pros: Lightest, most-pack-able

Cons: Least durable

Weight* 432 grams

G3 Alpinist LT Mohair Climbing Skins

Right out of the box I love how these come in custom lengths and needed no adjusting to fit my skis. The included G3 Trim Tool is a work of art and the only tool I use to trim skins. These had the best glide in cold temps and fair grip in challenging skinning conditions. The glue iced up a little on a couple tours but they were still fully functional throughout. The tip connector is probably the best out there as it self adjusts to fit the shape of your tip perfectly. The tail connector however is my least favorite part of these skins as it would pop off my rocked DPS Wailer 99’s repeatedly. I’ll most likely remove it next season and use these without a tail connector or order a twin tip connector kit.

Pros: Out of the box fit, excellent glide in cold snow

Cons: Frustrating tail clip (replaceable with a twin tip connector kit)

Weight* 496 grams

Contour Hybrid Mix Climbing Skins

Contour uses a 70/30 mohair/nylon mix in their hybrid skins that require the tip clip to be installed before use, much like the Black Diamond skins. Set-up took less than 30 minutes. These had the best grip of the three models I tested but less glide (that’s usually the toss up with skins). Both the tip and tail connectors were very secure and the glue performed well in all test runs. I did notice a very strong odor from these skins the first few times I used them that is finally starting to abate.

Pros: Best grip, coolest graphic!

Cons: Less glide than others tested, but not a deal breaker!

Weight* 582 grams

climbing skins review

Author ripping Contour Hybrid Climbing Skins before descending Karlsarfjall 988m peak in Northern Iceland, photo by Brent Doscher

Summary

So which ones are right for you? I found all three to be great for the category but it comes down to what you want most out of a climbing skin.

Best grip? Go with the Contour Hybrid Mix Climbing Skins

Lightest/Most-Packable? Well then you want the Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins

Most convenient all-a-rounder? The G3 Alpinist LT Mohair Climbing Skins are hard to beat!

Have you tried any of these skins? Have a favorite model you want to call out? Let me know in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

*All skins were trimmed to fit DPS Wailer 99 176 cm skis

Disclaimer: These climbing skins were provided for the purpose of review. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Posted in Backcountry Skiing, Gear Reviews, Ski Gear Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Travel Guide- Ski Touring in Iceland

A few days ago I returned from an amazing ski trip to the Tröllaskagi peninsula in northern Iceland. Six days of ski touring was more than enough to make me fall in love with this amazing country and I cannot wait to return! I’d like to share some tips for planning your own backcountry ski trip to this enchanting country. I’m also a stickler for planning and will include my detailed personal gear list for this trip with comments on what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully this will help you plan your own adventure to the land of the vikings!

General Information

So much is out there! Get an idea of what the country is about on Wikipedia then head over to the following websites for more ideas:

http://www.iceland.is/

http://www.visiticeland.com/

http://wikitravel.org/en/Iceland

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iceland

While I love online resources when it comes to international travel I really like getting a physical travel guide. The Lonely Planet: Iceland is a few years newer (2015) than the competition so that is the one I picked up.

Lonely Planet- Iceland

Lonely Planet- Iceland photo from Amazon.com

Flight Info

Flying to Iceland

Flying to Iceland

There are two airlines servicing US passengers to Iceland, Iceland Air and the relatively new budget airline WOW Air which started operating flights out of the Keflavík International Airport (KEF) hub in 2012. On the surface WOW Air seams to be a great value but you should factor in some of the additional charges they add that are included with Iceland Air.

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.05.11 AM

While flights from Boston’s Logan International Airport (BOS) can run as little as $99.99 US one-way on WOW Air you need to consider the $106 extra in baggage fees that would be included when price shopping. Also Iceland Air includes non-alcoholic beverages and free WiFi while WOW charges $3 USD for any 8 ounce non-alcoholic beverage including water!

My opinion of WOW Air was damaged by the fact that they failed to load one of our parties ski bags on to our flight and were less than helpful locating it after we arrived. Luckily the ski bag was found at BOS when we returned to the states but not after our group member incurred expensive ski rental charges. It is our opinion that WOW Air customer service did not try to locate and ship the ski bag on any subsequent flights.

Regardless of which airline you choose the best way to get a solid deal is to subscribe to both of their email lists from their websites here and here. If you select seats on the left side of the plane you might enjoy some views of Greenland about halfway through your flight!

Getting to Akureyri

Screen shot 2017-04-18 at 7.32.12 AM

From Keflavík International Airport (KEF) which is a few minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík you can either take a short flight (45 minutes) on Iceland Air for about $200 USD, bus, or rent a car and enjoy the scenic 5 hour drive. To get around the northern part of the island a rental car is the way to go. I’d suggest an SUV at around $35-$45/day. GPS is really not needed for navigation as it is quite simple to get on Route 1 (The Loop Road) and follow it north to Akureyri. Roof boxes are an optional expense but might not be big enough for full size skis so if you are 2-3 skiers per vehicle you can save some money by putting down one of the back seats and easily fitting 3 ski bags inside the vehicle. If you are 4 to a vehicle make sure you request the largest of roof boxes!

Lodging in Akureyri

There are a ton of options in the area and Airbnb is the best place to look. We found the above pictured group lodging option about 10 minutes from downtown. There is a cool looking hostel right downtown but we liked being a little out of the hustle & bustle and having our own cabins made drying and organizing gear convenient, especially since the floors of these cabins seemed to have radiant heat (geothermal is everywhere!). Private jacuzzi’s were enjoyed every day after putting in some vertical human powered effort!

Eating in Akureyri

Eating in Akureyri

“I’ll have one with everything” photo by http://www.caitbourgaultphotography.com

The closest grocery store was a “Bónus Langholt” conveniently on the north side of Akureyri. Expect to pay about 150% vs. US prices for anything imported (which is almost everything that isn’t fresh vegetables, dairy, seafood or lamb. There is quite a varied culinary scene in the downtown area. The one place that absolutely stood out was Noa Seafood.  This place served our large group a 3 main course meal; arctic char, cod, spotted trout. Each cooked in a large skillet with fresh vegetables, potatoes, and perfect seasoning. There is no question I will return to Noa Seafood on my next visit! Slightly more affordable seafood soup can be found at Akureyri Fish and Chips.

Akureyri Nightlife

Akureyri Nightlife- @photocait

The most important culinary experience to try while in Iceland is the hot dogs. Seriously they might be the best hot dog in the world. It’s a combination of the pork, beef, and lamp. They toast the buns. They add 2 types of onions, raw and fried, then 3 condiments the highlight of which being a delicious “remoulade” I regret not buying a bottle of before returning to the States. While the article I linked to above mentions one popular place I can assure you that the farthest gas station in northern Iceland still served up the most amazing dogs I’ve ever had. Almost everyone in our group ate 1-2 of these treats every day. No regrets. None.

Bacon-Wrapped-Icelandic-Hot-Dog-KaveyEats-cKFavelle-addedtext-8442_thumb

Weather & Avalanche Info

The traditional ski season runs from December through April with best conditions and increasing daylight from February to mid-April. On good snow years the back-country skiing may be good through May. The best online resource I could find for current and forecast weather is here. This website also links to a fairly brief avalanche report here.

Avalanche Danger in Iceland

Ski Tours

Iceland Ski Tour Map

Iceland Ski Tour Map

We did all of our touring north of Dalvik and south of Ólafsfjörður mainly in the Karlsárdalur Valley. This area was recommended to us by friendly guides at Bergmenn Mountain Guides, the only IMFGA certified guide service in the country (and where our group member was able to rent a full touring set up at about $60/day). The trailhead forKarlsárdalur Valley is only 35 minutes from Akureyri and 2 minutes north of Dalvik. An often established mellow skin track takes you into this beautiful valley with a seemingly endless amount of tour options. We skied much of the south facing drainages with the most amount of time in the “third valley” on skier’s right. You can see our highpoint tour in this video and I may attach my GPS tracks here later.

The Topo map above is the best detailed map we could find at 1:50,000 scale and could be purchased from Penninn Eymundsson in downtown Akureyri.

Equipment

Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:

Item Weight
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag 8 lbs
DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1 176 cm skis with Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings 7 lbs 6 oz
Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots, size 27/27.5 5 lbs 12 oz
Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins and storage sack 1 lb 4 oz
Dynafit Ski Crampons 8 oz
Black Diamond Ski Poles 1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon 8 oz
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel 1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Probe 10 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw 8 oz
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe 15 oz
Petzl Vasak Crampons 2 lb
Petzl Sirocco Helmet 6 oz
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack 11 oz
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
3 wire gates, climbing knife, 2 Petzl ice screws 1 lb 5 oz
Sterling climbing rope, 30m, 8.4mm 3 lbs
AMK .7 First Aid Kit 9 oz
Leatherman Supertool 11 oz
CRKT Lake 111 pocket knife 3 oz
Suunto MC-2 Compass 3 oz
Nalgene 32 oz water bottle
Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Liner 10 oz
SOL Emergency Bivy Sack 4 oz
Revo Capsule Goggles and Buff 8 oz
Revo Cusp S Sunglasses White w/ Solar Lens
Revo Harness Sunglasses Black w/ Green Water Lens
Petzl Myo Headlamp 5 oz
Lighter 1 oz
Three pairs of chemical hand warmers 6 oz
Snow thermometer 1 oz
Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch 3 oz
OREI European Plug Adapter
iPhone 6s+ with headphones & charger 10 oz
GoPro 5 Session with Polar Pro Tripod 12 oz
Travel neck pillow
Clothing
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell Jacket 1 lb 14 oz
Ortovox 3L Guardian Shell Pants 1 lb 10 oz
Arcteryx AR Hoody 1 lb 2 oz
Ortovox Fleece Melange Hoody 1 lb 2 oz
Outdoor Research Echo Hoody 5 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool boxers (2pair) 8 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool long sleeve top 7 oz
Ortovox Rock’N’Wool bottoms 7 oz
Outdoor Research Project Gloves 6 oz
Ortovox Tec Gloves 4 oz
Ski Socks (3 pair) 8 oz
Outdoor research sun ball cap
DPS Trucker Hat
Bathing suit 6 oz
Toiletry Kit- soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, eyeglasses 1 lb 4 oz

Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag

I’ve used this for over 7 years with trips to the Washington, Nevada, and Colorado. While it is designed to hold two pairs of skis I only pack one pair and use the extra space for almost all my extra gear allowing me to only check one bag and carry on a small ski touring pack. Be sure to check max weight of ski bags for the airline you are flying (WOW airline to Iceland allows max weight of 60 lbs when you purchase a ski bag allowance).

Ortovox Haute Route 35

The perfect size for day touring and ski mountaineering this pack is well designed through-out and will be my only carry-on luggage. Detailed review posting soon and will be linked here!

DPS Wailer 99 Skis

I’m rocking the ultralight Tour 1 model of these award winning skis but some may like the stiffer Pure 3 construction or super affordable Foundation model!

Dynafit Speed Radical 2.0 Bindings

A great match for my ski/boot combo these keep the uphill effort to a minimum while still providing excellent downhill control!

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Ski Mountaineering Boots

This boot is insanely comfortable on the up-track and performs quite well on the down. Not only that I can ice climb Grade 4 in them in with no issues making it an excellent ski mountaineering boot!

Black Diamond Ultralite Mix Climbing Skins

Lightest full coverage climbing skin I have ever tried! Another natural fit for this lightweight Spring touring setup!

Dynafit Speed Crampons

Simple proven design for when it gets a bit too steep for just skins but you’d prefer to not boot pack it! Snow conditions were excellent during our trip and I did not use these but they are easy added insurance for icier skinning conditions.

Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles

Simple proven design, I’ve had mine for 6+ years. Will look to upgrade down the road.

Ortovox S1+ Avalance Beacon

My personal beacon of choice for the last 5 years, and I have used just about every beacon on the market over that time frame as an active avalanche course instructor. This item deserves an long in-depth review but that will have to wait until after Iceland!

Ortovox Pro Alu Avalanche Shovel with Pocket Spike

A great solution to those ski mountaineering days when you can’t decide if you should bring a mountaineering axe or not!

Ortovox 240 Light PFA Probe

A great choice for ski mountaineering and Spring conditions. Super light and quick to deploy.

Backcountry Access Snow Saw

No nonsense straight forward effective snow saw at a good price!

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability. Perfect for when you need a bit more security than an improvised axe like the Pocket Spike or Whippet.

Petzl Vasak Leverlock Crampons

Make sure you select the Leverlock option! Best all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! Like my ski crampons snow conditions were so good these never saw use but there is definitely some terrain in Iceland where I would break these out. We saw some nice looking ice lines in a few spots that would have been good fun with technical ice tools.

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Say what you will about the color but this thing saves some serious weight from your pack while skinning while providing excellent protection while climbing. A great ultra-light ski mountaineering option IMO.

CAMP USA Alp Mountain Harness

Lightweight, pack-able, ice-clipper compatible, and able to put on while wearing skis. Everything I want in a ski mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.

Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Leatherman Super Tool

I’ve had mine for almost 15 years. No question it has come in clutch quite often!

Columbia River Knife Lake 111-z Serrated Edge Folding Knife

Simple serrated folding knife for multiple uses

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

I’m not bringing a sleeping bag as we’ve rented a house with linens but this goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I often carry it with my bivy sack as a “just in case” option.

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Revo Capsule Snow Goggles

Pretty much the nicest goggles I have ever owned (and I’ve owned a lot!)

Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Revo Harness Sunglasses

I rock the Green Water lens on these for bright snow conditions

Petzl Myo Headlamp

My headlamp of preference for winter adventure for almost a decade!

Quality Survival Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value

Chemical Hand Warmers

I carry 2-3 pairs on every winter trip

Snow Thermometer

Hands down the best price on a quality thermometer for avalanche work

Garmin Fenix 3 HR GPS watch

My current favorite GPS navigation capable smartwatch with optical heart-rate!

Europe plug adapter

Because you need one to charge your phone/electronics in Iceland and Europe and this one is the best price yet high rated one I could find!

Brunton AR Pocket Scope

Super light/compact affordable option to binoculars for scouting avalanche terrain/activity

AA Batteries

I’m only bring 4 spares to cover both my headlamp and avalanche beacon but this is the best deal on quality AA’s I have ever seen. Performance all winter as been as good as any high end brand name alkaline I have ever used!

GoPro Hero 5 Session

A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. Look into it!

PolarPro Trippler Tri-pod

Works great with both my GoPro and my iPhone!

Travel Neck Pillow

Always said I would buy one and I finally did. Seems good for the price!

Well that’s pretty much it for “gear”. Clothing is listed in the spreadsheet at the beginning and does not include a little bit of casual wear. I am bringing my beloved Aeropress and a pound of freshly ground beans from my friends at Frontside Coffee Roasters in my home town of North Conway, NH because;

  1. Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
  2. I love my Aeropress coffee first thing in the AM

I’ll link more to my clothing after the trip but as you can tell from the list above it is mostly Ortovox. They make some amazing stuff and I’ll post detailed reviews on what I’ve been using this winter soon.

Summary

Iceland is a beautiful country with incredibly friendly and helpful people. They are adjusting to the new explosion of tourism the country is experiencing and you might sense some of these growing pains from time to time. As a back-country ski touring destination it is 5 star trip and I can’t wait to return!

Skiing in Iceland

The author gets one more run on the way back to Reykjavík- photo by http://mattbaldelli.photoshelter.com/index

See you in the land of the vikings,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links help support this blog. Author is a DPS and Revo ambassador and Ortovox Athlete and has received product support from these companies. 

Posted in Backcountry Skiing, Travel Guide, Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Gear Preview- New Touring Set-up!

A new pair of skis arrived on Friday just in time for the last avalanche course of the season! I wanted to put together a setup that would crush uphill performance (be insanely light) but also give me enough control for decent downhill performance. While I’ve only had one tour on this kit it was a good one, up Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, summit Mt. Monroe, and down Monroe Brook, I want to share some first impressions. A detailed review will follow once I put some more field time on them in Iceland in two weeks!

DPS Tour 1 Skis Arcteryx Procline Boots Dynafit Speed Radical Bindings

Built for uphill performance!

Let’s start with the boards!

The DPS Wailer 99 Tour 1

A proven shape (125/99/111, Radius: 16-19m) with the Tour 1 construction makes this an uphill skinning beast. Seriously each ski only weighs about 3 pounds! The feather-lite weight is achieved by using a balsa wood core but dampening and downhill performance is obtained due to the carbon/glass laminate and on both sides of the core. The top of the ski is protected with a Prepreg carbon fiber laminate and the bases are hard World Cup race bases. The combination of these material ends up with a ski that is surprising torsion-ally rigid and responsive despite belonging to the “ultralight” class. For comparison my Dynafit Denali skis feel a little softer than these at a comparable weight. I’ll wait to comment on the amount of “chatter” until I get a chance to bring them up to speed but typically that is an issue when rocking an ultralight ski.

The Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings Review

Dynafit TLT Speed Radical Bindings

I’ve always liked my Dynafit Tech Bindings and this is the lightest binding I have ever committed to.  Weighing only 13 ounces and carrying up to a 10 DIN rating and two level quick step climbing bars along with being compatible with my ski crampons it seemed like a perfect match for this ski (and this boot I’m about to explode about). For those who are curious I set my DIN to 8 (180 lbs, Type 3) and had no accidental releases on my tour this past weekend. I haven’t crashed with them yet and it might be awhile before I truly test the release as I tend to ski a little on the conservative side when on lightweight back-country gear.

The Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

IMG_6394

Arcteryx Procline Carbon Support Boots

This really is the game changer in my opinion! A boot that feels like it can ice climb Grade 3 water ice in absolute comfort, skin for thousands of vertical feet, and perform on the downhill in steep terrain with good conditions and in lower angle terrain in more challenging conditions. It’s literally the first ski boot I ever felt I could drive my car in. In touring mode it feels as comfortable as a Scarpa Inverno or Koflach Degree mountaineering boot. In ski mode it gave me enough confidence to link turns in variable snow conditions while descending Monroe Brook (max pitch 42 degrees). I felt one pressure point on the inside of my ankle bone during our descent when I was “cranked tight” that I plan on addressing by molding the liners. I’ll get more into the fit in my full depth review next month after many more days of touring but for now the size 27 fit my US size 9 feet like a comfy pair of slippers (except for that one pressure point I’ll be working on).

G3 Alpinist LT Skins

G3 Alpinist LT Skins Review

G3 Alpinist LT Skins

I have tested these extensively all winter long and have experienced overall positive results. They’ve gripped well in a myriad of conditions that I will spell out in more detail in my in-depth review next month. I absolutely loved how well they fit out of the box and the G3 trimming tool (included) made cutting them to size a snap. My only minor gripe is the heel clip rarely stays attached on the rounded rocker shape of DPS tails. Not a big deal considering they work fine even when that comes un-clipped.

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Dynafit Ski Crampons

My first ski crampons and they definitely made a difference on the steeper bits of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail. Almost everyone in our course who didn’t have them opted to toss the skis on the back and boot up the steeper half mile to treeline. With the included stuff sack this extra 8 ounces adds a lot of security when the skinning gets steep & icy!

This entire setup up; skis, boots, bindings, skins, and crampons only weighs 14 pounds and 12 ounces!

Hey you’ve read this far so here’s a video of our tour last weekend on the west side of Mount Washington!

Summary

I’m watching the weather in Iceland almost daily. Assuming Spring skiing conditions this will be my kit for that trip where we have a solid 3-4 days of touring planned. My ski season used to end when I couldn’t ski right to the parking lot at Pinkham but with this ultra-light setup I plan on making quite a few more forays up the hill and stretch my ski season out to May this year. When gear is this light and comfy I don’t think I’ll mind much tossing it on the back for a mile or two. If you are looking to lighten your load take a look at the links above. I think this is a pretty well optimized corn snow and soft snow setup when you spend a fair about of time earning your turns, and I really can’t wait to get these boots up an alpine gully this Spring (My Petzl Vasak crampons fit perfectly!)

Thanks for reading! A lot more reviews coming an quite a few gear give-aways planned for next month so if you haven’t already please follow this blog at the top right! You can also follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: The boots and skins listed above were provided for purposes of review. The skis and bindings were purchased with my own money. All opinions above are my own. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Posted in Backcountry Skiing, Climbing Gear Reviews, Gear Reviews, Ski Gear Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course and hello Spring!

The last weekend of winter provided one of the most spectacular 3 days of higher summits weather I have ever seen in March! Blue skis and almost non-existent wind led to some really enjoyable ski touring on Mount Washington during our second-to-last American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) course.

Day One

We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Benny discusses identifying avalanche terrain on day 1.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Small groups learn vicariously while discussing a local case study

Day Two

We met early to learn some advanced trip planning skills using CalTopo.com and the Avenza App. The Higher Summits Forecast called for southeast winds around 10-15 mph so we planned a tour on the west side of Mount Washington.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Powerful trip planning software that is 100% free!

AIARE Avalanche Course

Adjusting layers while skinning up the Cog

AIARE Avalanche Course

Small pockets of 2-3 mm Surface Hoar were found on sheltered north aspects above Waumbek Tank but below tree line

AIARE Avalanche Course

Benny demonstrates some snow pit observations near Jacob’s Ladder

AIARE Avalanche Course

Some cool wind effect and cornices nearby

AIARE Avalanche Course

We contoured around the rim of Ammonoosuc Ravine until we could drop the main gully or “Center Ammo”.

We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.

Day Three

AIARE Avalanche Course

Student led trip-planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

AIARE Avalanche Course

Skinning up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail

AIARE Avalanche Course

Hermit Lake Snow Study Plot

AIARE Avalanche Course

Skinning up between Lobster Claw Gully and Right Gully

AIARE Avalanche Course

Snow-pack Observations

Avalanche danger was LOW and we had plenty of time to spare so we booted up Lobster Claw and traversed over to the top of Right Gully.

AIARE Avalanche Course

Ready to boot up Lobster Claw

AIARE Avalanche Course

Bluebird!

AIARE Avalanche Course

Sherika after descending from pit location

AIARE Avalanche Course

300 pound block of ice came from somewhere

Some video of our descent:

AIARE Avalanche Course

All smiles after a good run!

We wrapped up the course back in the pack room with discussions about continuing to learn about traveling in the back-country. It was a real pleasure having each of you in this course. Thank you all for staying engaged and contributing through out our three days!

Tomorrow, and beyond!

Only one more avalanche course next weekend after a Mountain Skills Course tomorrow and Washington Climb on Thursday. It might seem like the winter season is winding down a little but we are set up for a fantastic Spring ski season! The warm rock climbing can wait this year… I still have a lot of skiing goals to accomplish including reviewing some new ski mountaineering gear from CAMP/Cassin, Ortovox, Petzl, and DPS. Expect a lot of gear reviews to be landing April/May after I get back from Iceland.

Yup, Iceland!  Been awhile since I’ve been out of country so I am SUPER amp’d about this upcoming trip.

Want to try backcountry skiing?

Maybe you just bought a setup or still need to rent a touring package (a few places in town rent touring gear). Maybe you’d like to avoid the maddening crowds in Tuckerman Ravine and check out some new to you terrain ? Consider learning about the joys of back-country skiing with me. The snow-pack we have in the alpine right now combined with more stable Spring weather is a GREAT time to book a back-country ski day!

You can read a bit about the program here but reach out to me directly at nealpinestart@gmail.com to check on available dates before trying to book!

Did you get out this weekend? Whatcha do? Let me know in the comments below!

Well thanks for reading, and welcome Spring!

See you in the mountains!

Posted in Avalanche Courses, Backcountry Skiing, Mountaineering, Trip Reports | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Gear Review- Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel + Pocket Spike

I carry an avalanche shovel about 3-4 days a week all winter long. For a piece of gear I rely on almost daily throughout the winter I am a bit picky when it comes to what model shovel I will carry. This winter I have been thoroughly testing the latest version of an Ortovox classic, the “Pro Alu III“, and I’ve been quite happy with its performance. Here’s a quick 60 second video review followed by a long detailed review below!

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel- photo from Ortovox.com

Let’s start with a quick look at the manufacturer’s description and specifications then I will get into my personal review of the product.


The best PRO ALU of all time. In this latest iteration of an ORTOVOX classic we’ve used the most innovative materials available and cutting edge production methods to achieve the best weight-to-rigidity ratio possible. Stabilization ribs and high sidewalls give the anodized blade rigidity, while the integrated shaft socket makes it easy to pack. With the new quick-lock, the blade and the fluted telescoping shaft can be put together in one motion. The new T-Grip Pro is revolutionary. It can be inserted for both right and left-handers – and also facilitates economical clearing. One hand grasps the long grip side, which serves as an ergonomic lever, while the other hand has maximum hold on the shaft’s rubber-coated grip zone.

  • Rubberized grip zone

  • T-grip pro with flexible left and right-handed function

  • Rapid locking without pressing a button

  • Oval handle cross section

  • Telescoping handle

  • Non-slip step grooves

  • Sharp, protected edge

  • Pack-friendly

  • 90° clearing function PRO ALU III

  • Rescue sled function

  • Compatible with Pocket Spike

  • Groove-shaped handle cross section


After extensive testing while instructing avalanche safety courses almost every weekend of the winter I’ve formed some opinions on the design of this tool. Here’s my $.02.

Weight

An important consideration of everything I take into the back-country, let’s start by comparing the weights within my current fleet.

Black Diamond Deploy 3 Shovel: 565 grams (1 lb 4 oz)

Ortovox Beast 3.1: 782 grams (1 lb 12 oz)

Ortovox Pro Alu III: 806 grams (1 lb 12.5 oz)

So the Pro Alu is the heaviest shovel in my assortment.While it might weigh 8 ounces more than the Black Diamond Deploy 3 it gains a ton of functionality that I will go into greater detail but for now basically: much better handle, almost a foot in telescoping shaft length, slightly larger and more technical blade, ice axe compatibility.

Pack-ability

Another concern when touring with only a 30 liter pack is how well your avalanche shovel will pack. I’ve been testing the Ortovox Tour Rider 30 (review coming) for most of my day tours this season and the slim design leaves little imagination for where you store your avalanche tools. The blade of the Ortovox Pro Alu III fits snugly in the outer pocket as if they designed the pocket for the exact dimensions of the blade.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Perfect fit for the shovel blade

The shaft and handle fit easily enough in the dedicated shaft slot on the inside of the pack and the handle is less obtrusive than the larger D shaped handle on my Ortovox Beast making it easier to fishing around for my water bottle or some grub.

Durability

The blade is made of a very rugged feeling anodized aluminum. Ribs and raised side walls add overall strength to the material. I’ve probably moved close to 50,000 pounds of plowed up refrozen snow while demonstrating shoveling and rescue techniques during this winter’s avalanche courses and the blade is still looking great.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Just a few small scrapes. Considering the amount of crud I dig through on a regular basis this blade and anodized coating is holding up very well!

Comfort and Convenience

Like most Ortovox shovels a rubberized grip low down on the shaft improves grip as well as provide a little bit of insulation.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Good grip and warmer during extended digging in cold weather!

This second opinion isn’t mentioned anywhere from Ortovox but having dug about a dozen snow-pit demonstrations this season, often in arctic temperatures, I do think that little bit of rubber there feels warmer than grasping straight metal.

The “T-Grip Pro” handle is reinforced with metal for durability but encased in a dense plastic. Having been use to a D-shaped handle for so long I was hesitant to how this style would perform. During my first couple test runs something felt off. I then discovered that the handle could be set for either left hander’s or right hander’s! Once I reset it to the right dominant hand the grip felt much more natural in my hand.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Remove the inner shaft and reinsert based on hand dominance

Quickly assembling an avalanche shovel in an emergency is a skill we encourage students to practice. Ortovox makes it a little bit easier by using “self-feeding” slots that depress and guide the locking button into place. No need to try to push a small button while assembling the shovel. Just line up the grooves and firmly push the shaft into the blade and you are ready to start digging. A tapered and plugged shaft end aid quick assembly and prevent snow from getting jammed up into the shaft.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Avalanche Shovel Review

Well crafted thoughtful design

Bonus Versatility!

Ok so let’s get to the coolest thing about this shovel! Like a Transformer there is more than meets the eye here! With the addition of the Ortovox Pocket Spike you can convert this shovel into a substantial mountaineering axe!

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review

Ortovox Pocket Spike

Let’s take a quick look at the manufacturer description:


Our new POCKET SPIKE is simply ingenious! Although usually tucked away in your backpack or pants pocket (hence the name), the POCKET SPIKE can quickly be retrieved in tense situations, for instance, when you’ve only got a few feet to the summit or if you have to cross a steep slope. In two steps, you can mount it on to the PRO ALU III shovel handle for added protection. The POCKET SPIKE has two parts: the tough axe blade made from AL 7075 T6 and the spike, which is attached in place of the shovel blade. The two parts snap together to form a single piece with no sharp edges and weighing just 95 grams. This tool is perfect for tours where you are happy about some additional support when you’ve only got a few feet left to the summit.


Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review

Carrying case included

THIS is what I’m talking about! I can think of far to many times I’ve been kicking steps up steep terrain in Tuckerman Ravine wondering why I didn’t bring an ice axe that day.

“Conditions will soften up early”

“There will probably be a well established boot ladder”

You’ve been there too perhaps and justified leaving the mountaineering axe at home to save a pound or two. Well this thing only weighs 95 grams (or 4 ounces with the included carrying case). Combined with this shovel it feels like a super solid self arrest tool. The T-shaped handle makes it feel like you could easily bear down and slow or halt a slide before things got ugly. The over all ruggedness of the whole design inspires more confidence to me then a Black Diamond Whippet. I still think the Whippet is a great”better than nothing” option but this Pocket Spike option is as solid feeling as a real mountaineering axe.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review

Solid protection in steep terrain!

This can be used as a short axe at about 48 cms or fully extended to 68 cms! Here it is next to my 70 cm Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe at both lengths for comparison.

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review

Crushing Mode

Ortovox Pro Alu III Shovel Review

Cruising Mode

Summary

Ortovox is an industry leader when it comes to innovative snow safety products. This fully functional avalanche shovel that transforms into a solid alpine axe is a great example of careful design and thought. Taken on its own the Ortovox Pro Alu III is an excellent if somewhat heavier avalanche shovel choice. When you consider the increased efficiency and functionality from a telescoping shaft, trenching mode, and the ability to quickly convert it to an effective self arrest tool it is a phenomenal choice for those who spend a lot of time in steep snowy places.

Like the review? Have a favorite avy shovel? Please leave a comment below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimers: Climbing and skiing in the back-country is inherently dangerous. Seek qualified instruction from certified guides and instructors in the use of the above tools. Attempting to use anything described in this review in any situation could result in injury or death. Recreate in the mountains at your own risk. I received this product from Ortovox as part of their Ambassador program but the opinions I’ve stated here were not influenced in any way. Affiliate links help support this blog. 

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Gear Review (and Giveaway)- Trailfoody.com

I heard my alarm and rolled over and checked my phone. It was 6 AM and I had set my alarm for 5:30. I must have hit snooze a couple times and now and I was late for work. My clients were meeting me at 7 AM for an ascent of Mount Washington and I had little time now to assemble my lunch. Luckily I had just received a sample from Trailfoody.com, a new premium food service company based out of Roanoke, VA to demo and review.

Trailfoody Review

My sample “Wanderer” package from Trailfoody- photo from trailfoody.com

Simply put Trailfoody is a convenience service like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, services that select high quality ingredients and ship them to your home with step by step instructions for cooking (there is no cooking for Trailfoody because it’s meant to be eaten on the go). This company is targeted at outdoor adventurers (like anyone reading this blog) who like good trail food. As a convenience service there is going to be a premium to pay but for the top level tier I was surprised to see it wasn’t as marked up as I thought it might be. Before we get into cost lets take a look at content.

Once a month Trailfoody sends its subscribers a hand selected assortment of trail foods seeking a balance in nutrition and taste. Some months the company follows a theme and this month was “Pan-Asian”, a theme I’m quite fond of. The service claims the “Wanderer” level package is good for 1-2 outings with 9+ trail foods and between 1100-1400 calories.

I decided to put this assortment to the test a few days ago while guiding a winter ascent of Mount Washington. I grabbed a bacon egg & cheese bagel at my favorite breakfast sandwich stop on the way to the Bunkhouse and for the rest of the day I relied on Trailfoody’s selections to keep me going. This is how it played out:

We hit the Tuckerman Ravine Trail at 7:45 AM and 45 minutes later we stopped at the Huntington Ravine trail for a quick snack and some water.

Trailfoody Review

Looking for my first Trailfoody snack, photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com

I chose these rice crackers from the 9 options included in the yellow stuff sack Trailfoody sends you with new service.

Trailfoody Review

First snack

100 calories  of gluten free goodness. Since my hearty breakfast sandwich was still powering me a bit this light snack was enough for now. 35 minutes later we stopped below the steeps of the Winter Lionhead Route to don crampons and I broke into the curried beef jerky I was anxious to try.

Trailfoody Review

This was some seriously good jerky. I’d never seen curried jerky before and 100% grass fed beef gave this excellent flavor, 80 calories

I decided to add this included electrolyte mix to my water.

Trailfoody Review

Not to sweet and quite tasty

We spent the next 45 minutes climbing the steep trail until we broke treeline and once again stopped for a quick refuel. It’s always wiser to eat the protein and fatty things early in the day so I reached for the almonds.

Trailfoody Review

Tamari is a great seasoning on almonds! 160 calories

35 minutes later we hunkered down below Lionhead and I grabbed a sugary snack.

Trailfoody Review

Tasty but dried fruit does burn fast! 40 calories

At the base of the summit cone I broke out the hearty looking energy bar.

Trailfoody Review

This thing was delicious! 240 calories

Trailfoody Review

Fueled up and heading up the summit cone, photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com

Just below the summit I dug into the other energy bar supplied:

Trailfoody Review

Also quite tasty and another 180 calories

On the summit I enjoyed a bit of calories & caffeine with this little bar:

Trailfoody Review

Caffeine and calories = WIN

After a successful summit I enjoyed the energy chews on the descent.

Trailfoody Review

Good end of day boost, 160 calories

I calculated about 1,200 calories when all was said in done and arrived back at the trail-head only mildly hungry which is quite a nice surprise considering this was a 4000 foot 4 mile winter ascent with pretty rough trail conditions and some definite adverse weather:

Trailfoody Review

Climbing in these conditions takes energy! Photo by http://www.brentdoscher.com

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t a little bit jealous of the left over pizza my companions were scarfing down at each break (left over pizza is my all time favorite winter trail food) but I was pretty content with what Trailfoody provided. This was more than enough food for warm weather outings that is for sure! The selections were really all solid and I can tell they care about sourcing quality options.

So is this a service for you? Well let’s break down some of the costs.

The company currently offers three levels of service starting with the one I tested, “The Wanderer”

The Wanderer

1-2 outings
  • Sometimes you pack for a full day. Sometimes you don’t.
  • 9+ trailfoods, 1100-1400 calories
  • 4 energy foods for breaks and recovery, plus heartier trailfoods that pair together as a tasty lunch or can also be eaten separately in smaller breaks.

This level is $25.95/month (including shipping). I think it would be best to think of this as fueling one outing unless you supplement. The markup here is noticeable but if you could track down all these high quality trail foods individually I think you’d probably save a bit, but it’s unlikely you’d find all these in your local grocery.

The Pathfinder

3 outings
  • You’re a regular. The trees and the trout know you by name.
  • 3 packs of 7+ trailfoods, 700-1,000 calories per outing
  • Each contains 2 energy foods for breaks and recovery, plus heartier trailfoods that pair together as a tasty lunch or can also be eaten separately in smaller breaks.

At $47.95/month (including shipping) this one works out to $15.98/outing. This is significantly cheaper per outing than the first tier though in this months sample it would come with out the Honey Stinger chews and the GoMacro Thrive (a loss of 340 calories). Considering the beef jerky alone costs $5.99 each this actually works out much closer to regular retail pricing than I had originally assumed.

The Intrepid

4 outings
  • That’s 4 outings for the most intrepid, or 2 outings each for 2 people.
  • 4 packs of 7+ trail-foods, 700-1,000 calories per outing
  • Each contains 2 energy foods for breaks and recovery, plus heartier trailfoods that pair together as a tasty lunch or can also be eaten separately in smaller breaks.

At $57.95/month (including shipping) this level works out to $14.49/outing offering a light savings over the “Pathfinder” subscription level.

Summary

When you break it down the markup for this service isn’t that high, though the convenience and quality is. Home-made trail food will certainly be the most economical option but not all of us are gourmet trail chefs, and some of us may tend to over-sleep and need to rush out the door quickly in order to meet our objectives. For those people this service might be worth checking out.

Thanks for reading the review! Want to try a free Wanderer sample yourself? You can enter the raffle multiple times at this link below! Contest ends on 3/31/17!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Trip Report- Willey’s Slide & Mount Washington

I was fortunate to spend the last two days with John W. who recently moved to New Hampshire from points south and has steadily been increasing his mountain skill repertoire. An avid hiker John had set a goal to summit Mount Washington in the winter and felt a One-Day Mountaineering Course would be a good pre-cursor before a Mount Washington summit attempt. You see John had tried Mount Washington non-guided in the winter last year with rented equipment and came to find out there is more to using crampons in steep terrain than meets the eye. He can tell you that story personally if you get the chance to cross paths with him in the mountains but I can tell you about our two days.

After spending some time at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse dialing in our gear choices and packing strategies we made our way to the historic and classic Willey’s Slide in Crawford Notch. At the base of the route the snow was perfect for practicing self arrest, the fundamental skill of quickly stopping oneself while sliding down the mountain with an ice axe. This skill is not intuitive but must become second nature should you wish to travel in steep snowy or glaciated terrain. John showed marked progress after a half hour of practicing. We then worked our way up the first couple hundred feet of lower angle snow climbing working on proper crampon technique.

ice climbing new hampshire

John works on crampon technique with Mount Webster behind him

ice climbing new hampshire

Short pitching our way up the right side of Willey’s with a party of three on the center ice line

A quick list of skills we covered:

Gear selection & packing

Crampon Skills: French Technique, German Technique, Front-Pointing

Ice Axe Skills: Piolet Canne, Self-Arrest Grip, Travel Grip, Self-Arrest from all possible falling positions

Roping up, how & why

Short-pitching, ice screw placement, anchoring in

Knots covered: Figure 8 follow through, Clove-Hitch, Overhand on a bight, Figure Eight on a bight

Rappelling with a device

Arm-wrap rappel


Day 2- Mount Washington Attempt

We met at 7 am sharp and headed off to the trail-head to get a jump on some questionable weather coming in the afternoon.

Climbing Mount Washington

Ready to roll

With low avalanche danger and well above freezing temperatures I decided we would forego the typical Winter Lionshead Route and tackle the more direct (and arguably more fun) Right Gully of Tuckerman Ravine. We still carried avalanche gear with us along with some ultralight harnesses, helmets, and a short rope due to the semi-technical ascent choice.

Climbing Mount Washington

We made great time to Hermit Lake arriving here by 9:30 am

Climbing Mount Washington

The floor of Tuckerman Ravine is always impressive

Climbing Mount Washington

Heading up towards Right Gully

Climbing Mount Washington

Topping out Right Gully

Climbing Mount Washington

Final push above Split Rock

Climbing Mount Washington

The clouds lifted for mere minutes while we got a quick summit photo

With snow conditions prime for glissading I brought us over to the top of the East Snowfields on the south side for a fantastic ride back down to the flats (see video).

Climbing Mount Washington

Dropping a thousand feet in elevation in 10 minutes tends to make you smile

We then connected into Lobster Claw Gully for another quick descent back to the floor of the ravine.

Climbing Mount Washington

Faster than Winter Lionhead but need to be avalanche aware and know how to navigate into them from above!

Climbing Mount Washington

Blue skies as we exit

Climbing Mount Washington

Sun setting on the Boott Spur Ridge as we leave Hermit Lake

Thanks to excellent snow conditions and Johns affinity for hustling downhill we made it back to the parking lot 2 hours and ten minutes after standing on the summit!

This day happened to be John’s 55th birthday and I was truly honored to spend it with him in such an amazing place! I look forward to seeing him in the mountains again soon.

Checkout some of the video from our two days!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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