Ski and snowboard touring gear finding its way to Steamboat shelves
November 15, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Turns out, there may be a breaking point as far as ski width is concerned. The past decade has seen skis balloon in size, expanding at a rate that would make someone riding a Rascal through a McDonald's drive-thru three times each day blush. What were fat powder skis as recently as five years ago now are all-mountain designs, and what now are powder skis at first glance look like snowboards.
But while fat skis still are popular, they don't appear to be getting fatter. Instead, the newest gear now on shelves across Steamboat Springs is more focused on doubling back to fill in holes left by the great expansion. There's still plenty of rocker, still plenty of float, but designs now have more ability to get around for backcountry enthusiasts and more options for the frontside skier or snowboarder who likes to occasionally fill that itch for adventure.
It doesn't take much walking across Ski Haus' showroom floor to see exactly what is driving the snowsport industry these days.
The large local retailer is stocked to the brim this winter with gear meant to help skiers and riders who opt to duck that rope.
"We have really expanded our AT lineup," Ski Haus' Bill Paul said about Alpine touring equipment. "A lot of people are wanting to get into the backcountry, but they're not exactly wanting to learn to Telemark. They're wanting to hike and use what they already know. In the last few years, AT has really taken off."
At Ski Haus, that even has bled into the rental fleet. The shop will be offering more AT gear in that realm this year than it ever has.
From the ground up
The trend has become a fixture of the newest equipment.
A lot of boots now come ready to skin up a slope, a big change from only a few years ago.
John Kole at One Stop Ski Shop is quick to point to a range of new boots. Some of his favorites offer leaps in terms of everyday comfort. The Apex MC-1, for instance, takes the two-boot design that's made Apex boots a high-end hit in recent years and strips away that price tag. The high-end version of the boot ($1,400) features a carbon fiber frame around a snowboarding-esque boot. The frame is easy to take off, making the walk to, from and around the ski area a whole different experience.
The MC-1 does that but with a synthetic plastic frame. It's a bit heavier but comes in as low as $795.
Kole also pointed to the Dalbello, a boot that for as low as $650 features a carefully crafted shell that takes into account the ins and outs of a foot far more than a traditional boot.
It's the shop's Lange line that offers the most accessibility, however.
"We brought Lange back in because it's the best AT boot on the market," Kole said. "The sidecountry, the backcountry — that's all getting so much more popular."
The Lange XT 120 ($750) has a hinge built into the ankle and a small switch on the back of the boot with "walking" and "skiing" options. Flip the switch to "skiing," and the hinge is locked. Flip it back, and it pivots, making a trip uphill much easier.
"It can lock to give you support, then loosen up to make hiking more comfortable," Kole said.
Ski Haus carries the Tecnica Cochise 120 ($649), which is built around the same idea, offering more freedom of movement with the flip of a switch.
Much of AT accessibility also depends on the binding. Ski Haus just started carrying the Salomon Guardian ($449). Unlike a few other options, it's not required to take the ski off to switch between ski and hike modes.
Like many other pieces of the new wave of equipment, it's not exactly meant for the backcountry enthusiast, rather the inbound skier who occasionally is willing to expand his or her range.
Such backcountry access isn’t limited to skiers, either.
Split snowboards line the floor at Ski Haus. There were a few in stock a year ago. Now there are at least five models.
"That's really coming along," Paul said.
To stay warm and dry on your new adventures, the guys at Straightline Sports in Steamboat have a few good ideas.
Their first and favorite option was the Arc'teryx Modon ($699), an Outside magazine 2013 Gear of the Year selection.
"It's the strongest Gore-Tex they've put out so far, and it's also filled with Coreloft, so you're getting that all in one," Straightline's Tyler Anderson said. "It's a shell style, but it's really more of a coat. It fits like a shell but has the warmth of a full insulated jacket."
For those warmer days or bumming around town, Straightline's Brett Lee suggested the SmartWool SmartLoft jacket ($220). It's got the puffy down jacket look, meaning a wearer no doubt will fit in downtown, but is filled with wool instead of down.
"It's got warmth and breathability," Lee said. "It'd be perfect for a big, physical activity like snowshoeing or for skiing in the spring."