The love/hate gear guide
For better or for worse, there’s more gear out there than you can shake a ski pole at an avalanche of equipment that has most people baffled and befuddled. As we turn to the sales rep with a crinkled brow and look of confusion, we oftentimes hold up a piece of equipment and ask, “What the @#$% is the purpose of this thing?”Usually, sales reps have answers.Other times they don’t.Among all the gadgets and gizmos there are a few items worth mentioning, either because we’ve tried it and it’s well-made, or we’ve tried it and found it useless and wasteful. It doesn’t take long to figure out whether your gear was made by a hard-working, thoughtful company or stitched together by a team of circus monkeys in the basement of an abandoned warehouse.So The Vail Trail has decided to give praise to five of the most useful, ergonomic and intelligent products or designs in the ski/snowboard world, and then ridicule and mock five products that come from the bottom of the barrel.Gear that’s good1: The Avalung The Avalung isn’t foolproof, and it’s not a guarantee of safety, but it’s a well-made product that provides another line of defense in case of an avalanche. Sturdy and unobtrusive, the Avalung filters oxygen out of the snow, keeping an avalanche victim breathing and alive while rescue operations begin.2. Rossignol Soft 1 Soft boot technology has given us happy feet, and props to Rossignol for getting the whole thing started. Sure, we trade softies in for good ol’ fashion plastic boots whenever we’re racing in a NorAm downhill (which is never), but they get the job done for the basic, everyday skier. This is a good example of skiers learning something from snowboarders (sign of the apocalypse?). And if you’re light enough, like Tanner Hall, you can win the X-Games slopestyle competition wearing them.3. Mountainsmith 10-18 For some of us, riding without a backpack is like showing up at school naked it just doesn’t feel right. But hyperactive backpack gearheads usually go overboard with clips, ax loops, mesh pockets, delta-compression reinforced nylon whoop-de-doos and other minutia, all of which screams clothesline when one of those ax loops snares a tree in Snag Park. And who needs dangling straps and clips when loading and unloading from the chairlift? Backcountry is one thing, but riding the mountain requires a simple bag like the 10-18. Two pockets, no confusion, just a place to put gear, lunch, water and a spare sweater.4. The Tecnica swing gate: Most boot gadgetry is pure gimmickry, designed to dupe the average Front Range buyer. But the swing gate available on four different Tecnica boots (the Icon Alu, Icon comp, Entryx 9 and Entryx 7), is a serious improvement, and it makes getting in and out of boots much, much easier.5. Cat Crap: No, it’s not really cat crap. It’s a lens de-fogger cream made by Eckcessories that comes in an easy-to-carry .05-ounce container with enough goop in there for multiple uses. It works and it’s got a silly name, which is more than we can say for oh-so-many other products out there.Gear that’s annoying1. Collapsible poles: The idea is good, and we’re not going to knock it, but nobody seems to have nailed this concept down. Adjusting pole length is especially handy in the backcountry, hiking up hills with skins on the skis, but on the way down collapsible poles tend to collapse on the skier. The joints tend to be a bit weak, too, and many a pole has broken at the joint.2. Step-in tele bindings: One day this nation will rise up and create a step-in freeheel binding until then we’ll have to withstand verbal abuse for a few minutes every morning while our alpine buddies mock us for being slow. The problem is the boots, actually, not the bindings. Freeheelers must unite and create a standardized boot shape, thereby allowing for a universal step-in design that works.3. “Security” buckles: In the overwrought battle to find new ways to improve ski boots, an entire series of ridiculous boot buckle systems have been developed. Mankind has been making buckles for centuries, and yet many boots have fancy buckles that quickly become a royal pain in the rump. Simpler, in this case, is better.4. Polarized goggle lenses: It may seem cool to look through polarized lenses when you first pick up your new pair of goggles, but there’s a problem: polarized lenses filter out the sheen reflected from icy patches. If you can’t see the ice, then your goggles aren’t working right.5. The walkie-talkie: Walkie-talkies don’t annoy people, people annoy people. Useful on the mountain, the growing popularity of walkie-talkies seemed like a good idea. But now one is never safe from being in proximity to some paranoid parent venting their frustrations into a hand-held Motorola, or a wife threatening divorce if Charlie doesn’t get his butt down to Mid-Vail immediately.
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