This is Episode Three of our on-mountain look at some of next season’s gear. Previously we sent our reporter to Golden Alpine Holidays with the Blank Collective. This time, we send him into the backcountry of Banff and Kootenay National Parks with pro skier and friend of Fresh Skis, Rob Heule, for a week-long chance to test gear.
Starting at Sunshine Village, Rob, myself, and photographer Bruno Long headed into the Mt. Ball area and then further on to Storm Mountain. After a re-supply on Highway 93s, we slogged our way to the Valley of the Ten Peaks to ski 3,3-4 Couloir on our way to the town of Lake Louise. Tired but happy, we ended our trip with a visit to the Lake Louise ski area.
Along the way, we skied ice, glop, powder, and crust. We toured, walked, and boot-packed. We ate, skied, and slept under the stars in our ski clothes. And we obsessed over every gram we had to haul, making this trip an excellent examination of equipment.
“This was a good idea. This was a good idea.”We’ve only just begun skinning up the groomed runs of Sunshine Village at sunrise, and Rob might already be questioning his decision to join us. It’s easy travel so far, but our packs are heavy with days worth of food, shelter, and essentials. Rob is lugging a heavier ski set up than you might think, too.
2022 Line Pescado. 158/125/144mm in a 180cm length
At 1950g, Rob’s planks were 300g heavier than what I was on, and I started the trip wishing for lighter boards. If you are familiar with Rob’s skiing, you’ll know that style matters to this man. I couldn’t even picture him sketching his way down a slope on lame little skis. His approach to skiing is all about smooth fun and casual cool. And so, he brought the 2022 Line Pescado. Rob compared them to a fish surfboard - and you can see why with the full, wide nose and swallowtail. The 19.5m radius is tight but not ridiculous. It’s still very much a powder version of a carving ski. When he had space, Rob’s turns were big, round, smooth, and surfy. And it sure looked like a lot of fun.
Rob and his 2022 Line Pescados ready to rail.
The skis excelled on the north-facing alpine slopes, as you would expect. But they also were the best tool in the group when we encountered tight trees with variable conditions. On our second day, in particular, one warm tree descent looked like a lot of fun on Pescados, but was a nightmare of heavy, sticky snow or crust that was barely survived on lesser skis.
“I was happy to have the snow surfers in there,” Rob said in his usual understated way. “That’s why I hauled them on this trip.”
Marker Kingpin 13
The other thing Mr. Heule hauled on the trip was a pair of Marker Kingpin bindings. We talked about the choice between light, low-tech bindings and heavier hybrid bindings in our last instalment and Kingpin is just another notch on the spectrum between Shifts and pin bindings. I think for our trip, most would choose the lightest binding they can, but if you are going to ski the resort more, the Kingpin or Shift is a great solution. To his credit, Rob didn’t complain about the weight once.
Ready to take the gear for a walk.
Birds are chirping in the frosty pre-dawn as we awake. The sky is clear, and it’ll be a hell of a ski day, but I need coffee before anything else, so Rob fires up the stove and nearly melts the moustache off his lip. He slides the lighter back into the thigh pocket of his North Face bibs. I imagine that he’s the first one out of his sleeping bag because he brought the nicest puffy jackets (also North Face) and gets to cuddle in their downy warmth while cooking.
The North Face Freedom Bib
Like Rob, Bruno and I wore bib pants for the traverse. The real advantage comes not from the bib itself or the suspenders (though it’s nice to have your avalanche transceiver securely in a belly pocket so that you never have to fuss with a beacon harness or risk forgetting to put the device on), but from the big thigh pockets that our pants all shared. While on the move, we could quickly grab any of the small things we need during the day without having to take off and put on our oversized packs, which is a significant advantage when you’re tired and need to keep moving.
Rob Heule boot packing in the sun.
I use one pocket to carry all my snacks for the day. It also has room for my sunscreen, a Buff and a light pair of gloves that might get ditched as the day warms. On the other leg, I carry my map, phone, field book, and thermometer. As a bonus, these cargo pockets are still easy to access while wearing a glacier harness. If you are looking for a pair of ski pants to tour in, find a pair with thigh pockets big enough to stash all your miscellaneous gear, but also make sure they don’t hang over your knees where they’ll be uncomfortable when you need to bootpack or walk.
Rad Powder Cap
My favourite new piece for this trip was the Rad Powder Cap I ordered off radpacks.ca (Rob’s personal brand of limited edition, small-run, quality-crafted gear). The brim helped keep the oppressive sun off my face while the fleece lining kept me warm all night. It’s the only ski hat I’ve found that you can ski fast in without concern of losing your lid. The chin straps velcro comfortably to each other when it’s time to shred or can be folded up if you need to cool off. The hats are fully reversible, and even after a week, I can’t decide if I like it more with the fleece side in or out.
On day four, we gain a pass to find a few north-facing little freeride couloirs divided by towers of limestone and holding cold-dry powder. Skier and cameraman alike were stoked to cache their heavy gear and climb the chutes for a bit of fun. We’d selected our gear for this trip, thinking about both the long walks and the downhill fun. But, the ability to ski as hard as we wanted to on runs like these is what made all the effort worthwhile.
Adjustable ski poles are not a must for ski touring, but man, do they help. That’s nothing new for next season, but it was reaffirmed on our trip. Rob was using the Line Vision ski pole, Bruno a pair of Salomon adjustable poles, and I had a similar Black Crow’s model. Adjustable poles are more expensive, and they do add one more piece that can break, but the advantages on a trip like this far outweigh those drawbacks.
On long, flat walks, you want longer poles (say roughly 130cm for a skier who’s 5 foot 9 inches tall). Imagine a cross-country skier with short poles; they will never get as much glide or cover as much ground. Ski touring is very similar. Besides, as you tire, you’ll want to get as much weight off your legs and onto your arms as possible.
All three of us were on some version of the Dynafit Hoji boots as well. We already talked about these boots in Part 2, but it seemed noteworthy that Bruno was still sporting the Hoji Pro Tour, Rob the Hoji Free, and I the Radical Pro. The only one that’s new for 2022 is the Radical. With a roomier last than the Hoji Free, it provided the comfort I needed for multiple days of heavy use. The Radical uses the same Hoji Lock system giving it the same excellent walk mode and downhill performance. It’s meant to be slightly softer (120 flex compared to the Free’s 130), but even with a heavy pack on, it was plenty for me.
Dirty, smelly, and well used Dynafit boots.
Our trip ended with a day riding the chairlifts at Lake Louise. While Bruno and I compromised with our low-tech touring bindings and the same skis that we’d walked there on, Rob had a ski hill rig lined up. Already the best skier in the crew, with this kit, he was head and shoulders better than us.
2022 Line Sakana. 150/105/138mm in 181cm length.
These puppies have some bold sidecut, and man, did Rob put it to use laying over full, round 180 degree carves when he wanted to at Lake Louise. But he could also get creative and duck into tight spots to spray surf turns, even on tight transitions in variable snow. I’ve always imagined this type of exaggerated sidecut limiting creativity because it locks the skier into a specific turn shape. Rob quickly disproved that idea by showing off the ski’s versatility with an array of turns while making it all look like a lot of fun. Just one run later, I was convinced that I needed a pair of Sakanas for the ski hill next season.
Line Sakanas and Look Pivots.
Look Pivot 15 bindings reliably clamped Rob’s Full Tilt boots to his Sakanas allowing him to do ridiculous nose butters, worm turns, and tip rolls as well as lay into hard carves at speed. These bindings have become the go-to for modern, hard-charging freeskiers, which is crazy because they are about the oldest design that a skier can still purchase new. I guess when something works, why change it?
The truth is that Rob’s ski hill setup was just clearly way more fun than anyone else’s on the trip. So we just enjoyed watching him and started dreaming of what new gear 2022 would bring us.