Gear for ski mountaineering

Posted on June 19, 2011

 Since I’ve posted a few skiing entries lately and often get asked about the gear I use, here’s what my ski mountaineering kit looks like starting with clothing:

-Arcteryx Gamma SK pants: These softshell pants have been on every spring ski adventure I’ve done lately.  They breath, the snow stays out, they never get wet, have great pockets, durable, they’re the Bomb… need I say more?

-Arcteryx Alpha LT or prototype Beta UL Jackets.  Light-weight Gortexe protection. The Alpha LT has a Hemlock (foam bead) at the bottom which helps it sit tight below the harness.  Like almost all Arcteryx gear, you barely even know you're wearing it as it's non bulky, non restrictive, and completely dependable. 

-Arcteryx Atom Light Hoody.  This is my favorite insulation piece.  Not quite enough for winter use, but perfect in spring.  It even breathes so you can begin touring in it right from the car.

-The new Phase products from Arcteryx are the most comfortable base layers I’ve tried yet.

-My Glove choices I never leave home without are Arcteryx Alpha SV, Sigma LT, Tau AR.  For alpine climbing I might switch the Alpha SV’s for the Sigma AR’s, because the Sigma AR’s have finger loops that allow the gloves to be clipped to the harness up-side-down, so they stay dry for the belays.

-I like a light sport climbing harness for ski mountaineering such as the Arcteryx S 220 LT.  So light at 225g you don’t know you’re wearing it, and when your not, it’s barely affects the size an weight of your pack.   I’ve tried other harnesses such as the super light one from Camp, which is also ok - until you have to use it!  Better to carry the extra 100 grams and go with something functional.

-By far my favorite day tripping pack is the new 35-liter Arcteryx Cierzo.  Just big enough to do anything, or go anywhere.  I did the Rogers to Bugs traverse with a 28 liter pack, so I really do mean anywhere.  Light is right and this pack nailed all the features, and omitted all the dorky, useless bells and whisltles.   However, I do recommend stringing a bungy between the daisy chains to make it even more versitile.  This is a perfect place to store that layer you decide whether to where or not, and becomes crucial storage when you're overloaded.  If I need something a little bigger and beefier, I use a prototype Arcteryx Nozone, that is in the 40 -45 liter range.

-For ski boots, I either use Scarpa Mobe’s or Scarpa Skookums.  The Mobe’s ski better and harder that anything I’ve ever tried, but when the going gets technical, I prefer the Skookums because they’re a bit softer and lower cut.  They still ski amazingly well!  And don't forget the Flippies to change into when you back to the car - your feet will thank you.

-I ski on Black Diamond skis, mainly 185 cm Justices which blow my mind for powder, steep couloirs, trees, crud, etc. although when technical climbing or extremely huge days / scary descents are involved, I go with my nice and light 173 cm Havocs which are also really fun to ski on.  Dynafit bindings on both of course.  

-BD Venom ice axes are perfect, better than technical tools plunging, crampons the crampons vary: sometimes I use aluminum crampons such as the BD Neve Pro, but depending on the mission or time of year, or if I think there's a chance I'll be frontpointing a lot of glacier ice, I'll bring steel one such as the Cyborg.  

-All the little things: ski strap, skin wax, ski crampons, scraper, map, cell phone for the Louise group and Rogers Pass, Sunglasses, extra sunscreen, extra socks for the really big day, goggles, all packed tightly into a stuff sack.  Lots of food and water - beter too much than too little. Never leave home without the sun glasses or camera, and always leave some extra food, water and beer in the car, just in case! 

The South East face of Mt. Eiffel

Posted on June 19, 2011

One week after Mt. Victoria, Chris Brazeau and I had our sights set on Mt. Eiffel and it’s beautiful 1000+ meter long South East face.  I was actually supposed to be going on a multi day alpine climbing trip, but a work injury two days early left my fingers bandaged with steri-strips (I should have got stiched) and loosely gripping a ski pole was the best I could do.  

Mt. Eiffel seen from the 3-4 couloir, Valley of the Ten Peaks

A 4:20 departure from the Morraine Lake parking lot and perfect travel conditions, first up the Sentinel Pass trail, then directly up the face with a combination of ski cramponing and boot packing, had us on the summit by 8:15 a.m, as the Valley of Ten Peaks glowed in warm morning light.  The summit of Mt. Eiffel at 3084 meters (10 120 feet) is significantly lower than most of the peaks around it, yet somehow it felt like were on an island above in the middle of a sea of giants.  It was perfectly calm and we soaked it all in for a good half hour.  As the upper 300 meters of the descent was boot deep dry powder, it was hang out too long.  Cold smoke lingered in the air behind our turns for this section.   The mid section was a bit crusty yet still ok, but the lower section turned to sweet corn.  We were hoping to link some other descents into the day as many options existed, but warm temps were already happening, and it seemed prudent to call it a day.  For sure there would have been a nice powdery north facing couloirs to hit nearby, but suffering in iso-thermic snow (also risky) and getting cooked in the late may sunshine would have undoubtably ensued.   Instead, we were back at the car before 11, and home by noon.  Not a bad start to the day! 


Eiffel Peak is classic scramble in summer months, but I’ve never heard of anyone else skiing it.  If anyone has, it would be great to hear about it.  We would highly this as one of the “should-be classics” of the Lake Louise group for skiing.  It’s a big aesthetic face, sunny, non-technical, non-glaciated and is only about 40-degrees.  Pure fun!   By mid May, the road is open, so put it on your list and get after it!!

Chris on the approach, Mt Deltaform directly behind him


Note the lingering smoke for his turns.  Dry powder at the end of May!


Conditions don't get much better!


And the views were ok too...  Not a bad way to finish the ske season!

The East face of Mt. Victoria

Posted on June 19, 2011
As I write this, it's been almost month since this adventure went down, but it feels worthy of sharing, as it’s one of the most terrific slopes in the range.  On the 22nd of May, Jason Kruk, Hayden Kennedy and I left the car at 3:45 and headed towards the East face of Victoria.  That might seem early to some, but in hindsight, it turned out to be a couple hours too late for prime conditions.  Never-the-less, we cruised up the Plain of Six Glaciers on a firm crust, and some steep skinning brought us to the broken hanging glaciers below Mt. Victoria's ultra classic East Face. As far as we knew, two other parties had skied it already this year, and Lake Louise patrollers, and others too, had been hitting it for decades.  I would be surprised though if the total descents made down this beauty were in the double digits.  The snow on the face was getting alarmingly sticky in the morning sunshine, but we went for it anyways, pounding a steep staircase directly to the 3464 meter (11 364 feet) summit. Some cloud cover provided respite, and we frequently switched leads as the thinner air and warm temps made the ascent more challenging.  I’m guessing that the average angle for 500 meters was about 50-degrees, with passages pushing into the high fifties.  Naturally the exposure and the views were spectacular! 


On the descent, the snow was a little on the heavy side, but still really fun.  Tow hours earlier and we would have nailed the timing for the corn cycle.  We must’ve been at least an hour on the face itself as every turn required focus.  Finally we we’re off it by noon and the intensity of challenging turns above a massive ice / rock cliff ebbed.   Slushy turns in down the glaciers and gullies below soon had us back to the car and planning our next adventure.  It was great to get out with Jason and again, and Hayden for the first time.  Looking forward to many more!


The east face of Mt. Victoria as seen from the approach Hayden and Jason on the summit



Jason making steep turns!


More steep turns!


Haydon engaging the tele turn.  Plain of six glaciers below.

Jason jump turning with Mt. Lefroy in the background


Nearing the end of the steeps.  Only 1200 more meters to descend.