Winter 2017-2018 is here!

IMG_2204I guess its a bit late to be getting this out. I’ve been out for a couple of tours already and the snow is, in contrast to the last few years, really good. We’ve got a solid base and have had tour-able snow for at least a month, in some places longer.
As usual, all the normal outlets have started spinning the stoke….part of it is honest and natural, but  a big part of it is sales, of course. I can hardly save myself from “Gear Lists” and “Best Bindings for this Winter” posts. (When was the last time alpine bindings needed comparative reviews?)
I haven’t been remiss in my duties either. I bought some new gear for the kids, and I’m lusting for some new stuff myself, but I don’t really need any of it. 25 plus years of skiing and ski-touring has turned my place into a poorly organized ski shop, and there’s very few things I don’t already have at least two of. New skis and boots and all that are always cool, but here too – 25 plus years of hype and the cyclical nature of most new “innovations” has jaded me considerably to the lures of new gear. These days, I get stuff when it wears out – or- alternatively, when I just can’t stand to look at my old stuff anymore.
Out with Anonymous John and Friends. AJ doesn’t like the Internet, but he does like touring
And stuff does wear out. Clothes first, with holes in Gore-Tex, Primaloft going flat, even leather gloves getting worn-through on the side of the thumb. Backpacks blowing zippers and getting worn on the shoulders. I often wear a hole in the back flap too from carrying skis diagonally. This is sorta super-annoying because it seems to me that the manufacturers should recognize that ski edges are sharp…but oh well….
Last on the list are boots, and then skis. Boots I should probably replace earlier than I do. I don’t because finding a pair that works, getting them dialed in and matching them to bindings (at least with really lightweight touring bindings) is such a PITA that I’ll often wear a boot long past its prime. Still, that scuffed and worn-looking pair of TLTs or an old Cochise is kind of a mark of pride too. Not many actually have to have theirs resoled.
Skis wear mostly due to them losing their pop. This happens only after many days of skiing, far far more than most of the eBay specials have ever seen, and it’s gradual too, so I notice it usually only once I hop on a similar pair at a test center and go for a spin. I come back winded and a little surprised how fast I was able to push them and a sale will sometimes result. I still have a couple of skis that I don’t really love that are probably pushing 10 years old though. The kinda boring but useful “everyday groomer” that is my standard when resort skiing with the kids, or the super-mega-fat touring planks that are useful only in Japan or on the one day every 4 years when the Alps go bottomless and I don’t head out deep into the BC with light gear. These unloved skis tend to hang around, paradoxically, longer than the go-to boards in my quiver….like a relationship with a stripper tends to burn out in two weeks, while that mousy girl from finance is with you for 5 years…..
Plenty of snow, and just a bit of sun
Here’s hoping that as the season starts, you’ll make a few less purchases than you want to, you’ll be happy with the ones you do make, and you’ll live your dreams on that gear for as long as you can. Remember – our sport is already kind of hard on the environment that makes it possible, so tread lightly.
My first tours this year have been, like past years, at the resort. Nothing famous or awesome here. Hochfügen was well covered in early November, and the pistes were great. The continuing trend towards resort upilling is still strongly in force, but I don’t see it as a problem, at least not as long as the resorts are still closed. Hochfügen has a very open policy, and pretty much allows you to tour whenever you want, but they had to close everything a few times this year after a nasty accident in the Ötztal where a ski-tourer from the Netherlands got rolled over by a snowcat doing slope prep work and was killed.
Thats a weekday – pretty early start too. Many more were behind us….
The debate rages….should this be allowed? Should ski-tourers pay a fee? Should they be confined to dedicated slopes and places….? As much as I love what we do, I can’t ignore the masses of uphillers at my local hill when I am out with my kids for a resort day. They are the most prevalent hazard. (When I am one of them – I am the most prevalent hazard…) Its a (minor) annoyance, and, just as I choose to tour there becasue there is better snow on flat, prepared skiroutes, so does everyone else. It seems only fair that the people who provide those services should be able to expect that people taking advantage of them pay for their use. Additionally, the death of a tourer makes it clear (unfortunately) that the fears of the ski-resort operators are not unjustified, and we ought to take steps to prevent something like this happening again.
I know some out there will say: “Skiing is an inhierently dangerous sport” and “When you go into the mountains, you have to be responsible for yourself” – and those statements are both true. I would temper them both by saying, first – getting run over by a snocat is not skiing, its kind of per se an institutional hazard. If you bust at 80 kph and sustain a life-ending injury, thats skiing, and we may not be able to get rid of all those dangers, nor might we like ski-resorts anymore if we did, but machinery and people don’t mix, and we should take prudent steps to remove the danger. Our goal should be zero fatalities or injuries. A willingness to accept some number is just an excuse for complaceny. Second – if you go into the mountians, I do expect a higher level of personal responsibility. This is true inside or outside of a resort. At the same time though, in a resort, it is not primarily nature which dictates the rules of the game we play, but the people running the resort. This is true whether or not the resort is open. As a result – I do believe that the resorts have an obligation to keep things safe, and this, in turn, affords them some authority to enforce steps to ensure that standard is reached. In other words, this poor ski-tourer that was killed should have been personally responsible (I can’t say if they were or not,) but the resort must be responsible as well. Hochfügen closing the resort to ski tourers during intensive prep work is reasonable and correct. It may be that further restrictions may also be needed. I would support them.
Still – there’s plenty to go around, and its nice to see everyone out….
The same cannot be said of a segment of the ski-touring population. Fakebook has been broiling with the hate-posts of the self-professed “ski-runners” who see it as their god-given right to engage in “training” at all ski resorts at all times for no cash and with no restrictions….well….what can I say? They are, after all, personality type A. I love those guys. I do hope that we’ll find a way to get it settled.
I also really believe that there is a small, but viable market being created for ski-touring resorts with no lifts, or just a few small ones. I’d love to see this happen, and I know of a few places where this is already being done. Everyone’s been looking for a way to keep the small resorts running, and this might be the way. We’ll see.
hope we’ll get lots of nice views like this….
Anyway – here’s to seeing you on the skintrack this year. Love to get out with some of you soon.

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