Mountain Outlaw flipped the gear review on its ear, outfitting one Montana ranching family in the hottest new ski gear on the planet, head to toe.

By Emily Stifler Wolfe

Photos by Kelsey Dzintars

sarah_russell

Photo by Emily Stifler Wolfe

From the top of Maverick Mountain, Russell Harrison can see the ranch his great-great-grandfather homesteaded in 1884.

Set in the shadow of the 11,000-foot Pioneer Mountains, the J Dwight Harrison Ranch marks the entrance to the Grasshopper Valley, 30 minutes from Dillon, Montana. Alongside his father and uncle, Russell runs the family’s working ranch here, grazing their cattle on the nearby Beaverhead National Forest in summer and rounding them up by horseback in the fall.

On winter days, Russell, 34, often heads up to the mountain after feeding. “It’s the best way to clear my mind, to come up here and just ski for a day,” he says.

Although skiing is a part of life for the Harrisons, Russell hadn’t bought new ski boots since he was 17. The kids often skied in boots many sizes too big, stuffing the space in front of their toes with tissue, and Russell’s wife Sarah wore a snowmobile suit to stay warm.

With help from our ski industry partners, Mountain Outlaw outfitted the family with all new gear. After cruising long groomers together, they ripped high-speed laps, hit the park, and splashed in mud puddles. What follows are reviews from Sarah, a discerning mother and lifelong skier.

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REVIEWS BY SARAH HARRISON

Russell

(as told by Sarah)

russWith ski patroller parents and teenage years racing, Russell knows how to get down the hill. In style. “What else are you going to do in the winter as a family?” he says.

Volkl Mantra ski – 177 cm (Dimensions: 132-100-118)

This is the first time I’ve tried a modern, all-mountain freeride ski. I like the early rise, with its added maneuverability and float. The stiff tail gives the Mantra speed and stability on all surfaces, and it chews up the crud. I might prefer a longer ski, but apparently so does everyone else. They tend to sell out quickly. $825

Marker Griffon binding

The Griffon’s toe and heel are wider than my old Marker Motion bindings, helping transfer energy to the ski better than the old rig. I also like that the DIN has such a wide range – from 4-13. Even guys as tall as me (6’4”) will know their skis aren’t going anywhere. $295

K2 Pinnacle 110 boot

I like these new lightweight boots from K2, especially the flex and walk mode for touring or carrying kids around the parking lot. They are quite a change from the old Nordica Trends I had for 20 years. Since I’m used to four-buckle boots and don’t ski in the backcountry that often, I would go with the K2 Spynes next time. I recommend having the INTUITION liners heat-molded professionally. $750

Arc’teryx Sabre jacket, Sabre pant

This bombproof jacket /pants setup are designed to snap together with the Arc’teryx “Slide ‘n Loc” system for extra warmth in harsh conditions. I normally don’t like hoods, but the Sabre’s is helmet compatible and keeps water from dripping down my back – OK with me. And finally! A ski pant long enough for my 38-inch inseam; paired with the men’s Phase AR Bottom ($75), I’m good to go. Jacket $525.00, Pants $450

Arc’teryx Cerium LT jacket

I’m a huge fan of this lightweight, down jacket that packs into its own pocket for storage, while packing some incredible warmth, too. I use it working on the ranch when the weather drops to -30 F. $325

Dakine Excursion glove

This is the first glove I’ve found that keeps my hands just warm enough without causing them to get so hot they sweat, thanks to 360g of wool lining and a waterproof/breathable GORE-TEX insert. $90

K2 Diversion helmet

I’m not much for helmets, but now that my kids ski with me, I need to set a good example. Built-in audio is just the incentive I need: When I’m skiing solo, I listen to my country music, and mix it up with some classic rock. $159.95

Julbo Meteor Goggle, Zebra Lens

The Julbo Meteors prove there’s a better lens for skiing than polarized. These photochromic lenses clarify and define the terrain, adjusting from category 2 (low light) to category 4 (bright light) in changing conditions. $180

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Mia

Mia-HelmetMia giggled and squealed last year when she rode in the backpack while Russ skied. This year, at age 2 1/2, she’ll be racing down the hill on her own two skis.

L.L. Bean Infants’ & Toddlers’ Cold Buster Snow Bibs, Toddler Katahdin Parka

Do your kids come in wet and cold after being outside for only 20 minutes? Do you find yourself buying a larger size halfway through winter? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be thrilled with L.L. Bean’s children’s outerwear line. Featuring “growth cuffs” in the arms and legs, the Cold Buster Snow Bibs and Katahdin Parka allow kids to finish one season or last another. Both come mud-puddle tested, mother-approved. Bibs $59, Parka $79

Photo by Sarah Harrison

K2 Entity helmet

K2 has helmets that keep even the littlest skiers warm, dry and protected. With a flower print (even the ear mitts were flowers), Mia is thrilled to have a helmet like her big sister. $69.95

Dakine Scrambler Mitt

This is the first mitten I’ve found with a cuff that’s actually long enough to go over a toddler’s coat sleeve. Mia loves the cute animal design, and I love that they’re long. I use a rubber band to ensure the gloves stay on, since there’s no drawstring at the top. $25

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Brandon

brandon“Everybody knows everybody here,” says the quiet 15-year-old about Maverick. His M.O.: Ski until the lift stops turning.

Volkl Kink ski – 171 cm (Dimensions: 122-89-112)

This all-mountain ski rides freestyle in the park, and rips groomers. With rocker and directional shape, the Kink offers speed and maneuverability and is tough enough to withstand hard landings. $600

Marker Squire binding

The Marker Squires feature a Triple Pivot Light toe system and stainless steel AFD gliding plate, making these lightweight bindings versatile with easy entry and release, and a DIN that adjusts from 3-11. $280

Full Tilt Booter boots

The fully opening tongue of this three-buckle boot makes putting them on quick and easy. They adjust for a comfortable fit, and the stock INTUITION liners keep Brandon’s feet toasty. $500

L.L. Bean Men’s Waterproof Down Ski Jacket, Pathfinder Waterproof Pant

This 650-fill down jacket keeps Brandon warm on cold Maverick ski days, and has sealed seams, large pockets and even a special goggle pocket inside. Complete with articulated knees and taped seams, the Pathfinder pants are suited for spring ski days or hiking in wet weather; midwinter, they’ll only keep you warm if combined with heavy long underwear. Their tall cut fits Brandon’s slender frame perfectly. Jacket $279, Pants $149

K2 Rival Pro helmet

The Rival Pro is sleek, comfortable and warm. Brandon plugs his headphones into the built-in audio system and rocks out to Nickelback and country. $129.95

Julbo Plasma goggle

The Plasma comes with assorted cylindrical lenses of different tints. The standard frames are helmet-compatible, and at less than $70, they’re a steal! $50-$60, depending on lens

K2 Power 8 poles

These adjustable aluminum poles are great for a growing teenager, or for packing into the backcountry for some exclusive skiing. $69.95

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Sarah

sarahAfter three kids and ACL surgery, Sarah, 35, is just getting back into skiing. She finds great joy being out on the hill with her family, watching the kids laugh as they fly by.

Volkl Viola ski – 155 cm (Dimensions: 123-74-95), Marker Women’s 4Motion binding

I swear, I think the Violas ski for me. I just point them downhill and think about turning, and they turn. And my knee doesn’t hurt at all after two days of skiing and not wearing my brace. I love the integrated ski/binding system and recommend this setup to any intermediate woman. $825, includes bindings

K2 Spyre 80 boot

The Spyres give me better control of my skis: They’re the first boots I’ve worn that don’t feel like I’m holding on with my toes to keep my feet in place. Initially, I struggled getting in and out of them, but after wearing them a few times and breaking in the liners, it got easier. I like how light they are, and how warm they keep my feet. I’ll definitely be getting the INTUITION liners heat molded this year. $500

Mountain Hardwear Vanskier Jacket, Snowburst Insulated Cargo Pant

As a mom, two things are important to me when I ski: staying dry and having lots of pockets to stash snacks for my kids. This adorable jacket accomplishes both. I especially like the cooling vents and the helmet-compatible hood, and how well it works with the Snowburst cargo pants (also super stylish). The Vanskier and Snowburst run a little big – I usually wear a medium but a small was just right. Jacket $400, Pant $200

K2 Virtue helmet

Comfy and warm, the Virtue fits under the hood of my jacket. And it has built-in audio, of course! $159.95

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Jessica

jessicaJessica, age 8, is set to take her skiing to the next level. That’s what happens when you can take off every Friday from school to ski.

Volkl RTM Junior ski – 120 cm (100-68-82), Marker Junior 3 Motion 4.5 binding

The RTM Junior skis have an integrated ski/binding system that suits a young skier moving from beginner to intermediate. This all-mountain ski pushes Jessica to go faster, while still allowing her to turn easily. $275, bindings included

Full Tilt Growth Spurt boot

Tired of trying to squeeze your kid’s foot into a too-small ski boot, or stuffing the toe box of one that’s too big? The Growth Spurt adjusts three sizes, which ought to last several seasons. And don’t worry, their feet will stay warm and dry. $200

L.L. Bean Kids’ Cold Buster Snow Pant, Wildcat 3-in-1 Parka

Warm and cute with extra room to grow, the Cold Buster Snow Pant and Wildcat Parka keep Jessica snug even on frigid days. Zip in the fleece liner for extra warmth, wear just the water-resistant shell when it’s windy and wet, or just the fleece on warm afternoons. Pant $49.95, Parka $99

K2 Illusion helmet

Jessica is comfortable all day in the Illusion helmet. Since she doesn’t complain about wearing it, I rest easy knowing her head is protected. $89.95

Julbo Eris goggles

The small, comfortable frame of the Eris fits Jessica’s smaller face (and her helmet), offering her a broad field of vision. $50-$60, depending on lens

Dakine Tracker gloves

The Tracker kids gloves feature high-loft insulation and a cuff that fits over jacket sleeves. They seem to run small, so try them on before you leave the store. $30

K2 Charm poles

Jessica was just learning to use poles last year, and with the aluminum shaft, the Charms are light enough for her to plant with confidence. She loves the bright flower pattern, and the hand straps are easy on and off. $29.95

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Chalet Sports

chalet_1Without a ski shop to set up their gear in Dillon or at Maverick, the Harrisons brought it to Chalet Sports in downtown Bozeman. In business for 64 years, Chalet is a fixture on Main Street, across from the Baxter.

 

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The way skiing used to be

maverick_lodgeSkiing has long been part of Grasshopper Valley culture. The first rope tow was installed in the mid-1930s, down the road near Elkhorn Hot Springs, and there was an Olympic-sized ski jump in the 1960s. Today, many of the valley’s 75 or so residents ski, says Russell, who learned to ski – and yodel – at age 4 from a Swiss instructor named Pearly.

Maverick is mom-and-pop at its finest. The cafeteria food is homemade; there are loaner gloves and helmets under the stairs; and a “buddy board” at the Thunder Bar to buy your friend a drink and leave a message.

While the base area is frozen in time, owner Randy Shilling has expanded Maverick’s terrain since buying it in 1988, and there are now 22 trails spread over 255 acres. It doesn’t sound like much until you’re ripping down all 2,020 vertical feet of “Thin Air” on a powder Thursday (the mountain is closed Monday through Wednesday).

Monthly events include Polynesian dancing on the back deck, a community downhill, and the Bartender’s Cup, a triathlon with a drinking slalom and a bikini contest.

“There’s no way we can compete with the big commercial ski areas in offering amenities,” Shilling says. “But what we can do is keep it the way skiing used to be.” – E.S.W.

This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.