For the majority of the winter I have been touring in the Ortovox Tour Rider 30. Ultimately it’s a well thought out design that rides well but it did have a couple small quirks I’ll share in my review.
As always let’s start with the manufacture description and specs before digging into the details.
The Tour Rider 30 is the ideal backpack for long day tours. In addition to a separate safety compartment, the backpack is also equipped with ski and snowboard fastenings, front and rear access to the main compartment and an ice axe and hiking pole fastening. As with all ORTOVOX backpacks, the Tour Rider 30 has an integrated signal whistle and chest strap. The body-hugging cut, the load control cords in combination with the foam back and ergonomic straps make this the perfect backpack.
Chest strap with signal whistle
Ice axe and hiking pole loops
Separate safety compartment
Access to main compartment: front
Hydration system compatible
Access to main compartment: back
MATERIAL450D Polyester + 600D Polyester
Now let’s look at some opinions on this model!
What I love
This pack has a front panel that allows almost complete access to every nook and cranny in the main compartment but if what you are looking for is tucked away at the very bottom the whole back panel zips open for total access.
The foam panels in the back panel and the gel-like closed cell foam used in both the shoulder straps and waist belt is the perfect material for helping this pack carry well on long up tracks. The pack rides a little high on me which worked well when I was using it with a ski mountaineering harness.
Lightweight and Streamlined
Weighing only 2 pounds and having tapered sides and bottom this pack has that “bullet” feel to it and is unlikely to get caught while bushwhacking your way into the next drainage in search of fresh lines.
What I would change
There is a small zippered pocket on the top that at first appears to be a goggle pocket but isn’t fleece lined or quite big enough for a pair of goggles. I used it to keep my headlamp, knife, and a few snacks handy but I’d like the option to stow my goggles in that area. The avalanche gear storage is a bit interesting on this pack. The probe and shovel handle have dedicated slots inside on the back panel while the shovel blade fits best in a zippered pocket on the outside of the pack. I prefer to keep my tools all in one spot and generally lean towards external avalanche safety gear pockets (like on the Ortovox Haute Route that I am also reviewing) that do not require accessing the main compartment to remove or stow.
For short to medium length back-country ski tours this is a really nice option. Small enough to be useful for side-country touring and big enough to stretch into a full day tour this is a solid choice in a line up of well designed Ortovox packs and one you should consider taking a look at!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is my spreadsheet style list of what I am bringing. Below I will add some brief comments and links to each item:
Dakine Fall Line Double Ski Bag
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
Black Diamond Ski Poles
1 lb 6 oz
Ortovox S1+ Beacon
Ortovox Pro Alu Shovel
1 lb 12 oz
Ortovox Snow Saw
Black Diamond Raven Pro Mountaineering Axe
Petzl Vasak Crampons
Petzl Sirocco Helmet
Camp Alp Mountain Harness w/ ice clipper and storage sack
Climbing gear- two lockers, Reverso, double length sling, prussic
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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;
Good coffee is quite expensive in Iceland
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
We kicked off the course on Friday with some lively classroom sessions and small group exercises.
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.
We concluded our tour with a debrief at the trail-head before calling it a day.
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.
Some video of our descent:
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 email@example.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!
What a week it has been! This time last Wednesday I was just topping out the classic hard line Repentance on Cathedral Ledge with my old friend Tom and new friend and fellow Northeast Mountaineering guide Jordan. The route was in excellent shape and felt a few degrees easier than when I first climbed it a few years ago with Bob & Ryan.
Thursday I got to guide NEM regular guest Nick up an equally fantastic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff. It had been years since I’d climbed this route and it was in great shape. We did have to wait for a party ahead of us but completed the climb in 6 hours car to car with some of the best glissading I have ever seen on the descent trail!
Friday we started our 4th avalanche course of the season and students and instructors alike partook in evening social hours upstairs at International Mountain Equipment and watched presentations at the Theatre in the Woods.
On Monday I started a 2 Day Ice Climbing Course and had the pleasure of introducing father & son team Andy and Peter to ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge and in Crawford Notch. The snow was fantastic and I geeked out a bit over some of the snappy wind slabs we found along our route.
Later that night I heard of a climbing accident on the Black Dike. A climber had fallen during the final moves and severely broke his ankle in the 50-60 foot fall. I spoke briefly with Nick last night and he is in good spirits and incredibly grateful for all of those who assisted him off the cliff.
That brings us to today, a chance for me to do some laundry, get to the dump, and attend to other household errands that have been put off for a bit too long. Another round of snow inbound for tonight so I’ll probably find myself skiing tomorrow before our next avalanche course starts on Friday.
What an absolutely fantastic winter we are having! Hope you are getting out there and enjoying it!
Here we go! While some providers have run a couple courses already we just completed our very first one of the season yesterday and it was epic! A new venue, classroom tech, on-site lodging, awesome students, and great snow all led to a fantastic 3 days!
Our classroom sessions were held in “The Bunkhouse” living area in Bartlett, NH. This was extremely convenient for the students as 2 nights of lodging are included in the course tuition. All seven participants stayed in the bunkhouse which led to a pretty immersive course and some new friendships and touring partners.
Another big classroom change is the use of iPads pre-loaded with the AIARE Student Manual. The “Notability” app allows custom note-taking and the ability to email yourself the manual with notes throughout the course. I’ll be adding some CalTopo style mapping options on them to help with our trip planning sessions. For those who prefer a paper copy of the manual we do have them for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to non-profit conservation groups! Hats off to NEM co-owner Brett Fitzgerald for spearheading this unique initiative!
After two days of mixing up classroom and field exercises we headed up into Tuckerman Ravine for a ski tour designed to re-enforce the knowledge and skills we had gained the days prior.
A bit of GoPro footage from the day
A huge thank you to the first seven students of my 2017 avalanche course season! Each one of you brought something to the course with your engaging questions, camaraderie, early morning shenanigans, and cold weather endurance.
Our next course starts Friday but is sold out. We have a few more spots left in our Jan 20th course. We are also working hard at bringing on another course instructor so we may be able to open more seats soon. If you want to get into a course this season with me check the dates here: