From more tracks in the backcountry to more ski equipment companies dipping into the alpine touring market, there’s no question that the “earn your turns” touring crowd is growing in size.
Market research from SnowSports Industries America — the trade association that puts on the annual SIA Snow Show in Denver — shows touring gear and apparel to be the fastest growing market in the ski industry. And that growth is expected to benefit more than just the backcountry crowd. The walk-mode feature in ski boots — a staple of backcountry gear that a number of companies will emphasize next season — offers just as much benefit for the destination guest just looking to be more comfortable walking the après ski scene as it does for the skier looking to climb to the tree line by sunrise. From climbing skins to heel-release bindings and ski-specific backpacks, we can expect to see more backcountry-influenced gear on the market next season.
With that in mind, we took a look at three solid pieces of equipment for the skier looking to delve into the world outside the ski-area boundary line: the Technica Cochise boot, the Adrenalin 16 touring bindings and the Powder Keg pack from Boulder-based MHM.
Technica Cochise 110
When it comes to footwear, snowboarders still have skiers beat. But maybe not for long. Ski boot manufacturers are increasingly looking to the backcountry world to make a more comfortable boot to walk in. The key is in the heel release, and Technica has been at it for a few years now.
Whether you’re new to backcountry or you’re just looking to be a more comfortable while walking from the slope to the car, Technica’s Cochise boot is a solid option. The heel-release switch quickly pops the boot from ski to walk mode, substantially increasing range of motion in the ankles. Combined with a quick-release Velcro top strap that loops through a buckle, the boot goes from rigid ski boot to comfortable touring boot in no time flat. The difference is noticeable. Once you own a good heel-release boot, you may never go back. When in ski mode the boot maintains all the stiffness and support you need to charge downhill. We tested the Cochise with a 110 flex rating — a measure of how easily the boot bends forward from the ankle, with the higher numbers being less flexible. They also come in 90, 120 and 130 ratings. We also found the boot was a good choice for skinning uphill. The Cochise also offers interchangeable soles, letting you alternate between a standard Alpine din binding and a tech binding for serious AT skiing.
Retail: about $440.
Adrenalin 16 Binding
Whether it’s made by Head, Tyrolia, 4FRNT or Liberty, the Adrenalin 16 AT binding is a solid choice for the skier looking to charge inbounds resort terrain but also throw on some climbing skins and head into the backcountry. With a din rating that goes up to 16, these puppies will hold up for any skier looking to go big off a cliff drop or just slay some powder. The best feature in the Adrenalins is the location of the heel-release mechanism, which lets a skier go into touring mode without removing the ski — unlike its Marker counterparts. A simple flick of the ski pole in the heal-release switch will set the bindings into touring mode. This is also a great feature for moving around on flat cat tracks inbounds. When touring, we did notice a wet snow occasionally building up under the sole on, making it a little trickier to put the skis back in downhill mode without clicking out of the binding. But in most conditions the difficulty was minimal. The bindings lock back into Alpine mode with the push of a ski pole. They also have three adjustable heel settings for different graded climbs. This is a great choice for anyone entering the alpine-touring world.
MHM PowderKeg 32 pack
In 2009 a group of soon-to-be college grads decided that the world of backpack designs left something to be desired. With that idea in mind Denver-based Mile High Mountaineering (MHM) was born. The company prides itself on innovative pack designs, often incorporating zipper systems that make the entire pack easily accessible. We took a look at the PowderKeg 32, a winter ski and snowboard pack, to see what it had to offer for the aspiring backcountry enthusiast.
Like other MHM packs its low-profile design and well-thought-out straps allow a skier to feel unencumbered when charging a downhill. With a capacity of 32 liters, the PowderKeg is more than the average person might want for a day of cruising the resort. But take it to the backcountry and it’s a solid go-to. It’s strap system allows for skis or a snowboard to be strapped on in a variety of ways — vertically, diagonally or horizontally. And when not in use, the strap system tucks away comfortably. The pack’s large top compartment can take on a solid amount of gear for any day trip, and its sizable fleece-lined top pouch makes a great spot for storing goggles or camera gear. The medium-sized rear compartment has a zipper that allows for full access to the compartment. The pack also has a number of small compartments for tools and additional gear.
While extremely comfortable, the one thing we didn’t like about the pack was that the hip strap was not removable for those who prefer a pack that doesn’t require buckling at the waist. That said, the pivoting design of the hip strap makes the pack shift and adjust well to its user while skiing. Release buckles on the shoulder straps also make the pack easy to put on and take off. This is a solid pack for anyone making a quick backcountry excursion.