Camelbak 2012 Trinity

By Abbie Digel, Big Sky Weekly Editor

Day packs can be a nuisance, especially if they don’t fit properly. I’ve had problems with ill-fitting packs weighing me down on long day hikes. Most of the time, I grab whatever is in my garage, but I’m realizing that my old purple Jansport from high school with my monogram emblazoned on the front in cursive just doesn’t cut it around here.

I recently picked up Camelbak’s newest model for women, the 2012 Trinity, and found that the shape, size and color fits my lifestyle and moderate level hiking abilities.

Since I got the pack mid-winter, I took it to skiing a couple times. It was too bulky for the chairlift and not meant for carrying skis, but worked well for stashing extra layers, gloves and snacks.

The Trinity comes with a three-liter hydration system, which is enough water for an entire day of exertion. The reservoir is kept in a snug position against the back of the pack in a separate zipped pocket. As a long-time fan of Camelbak’s biking and running packs, I found the newest reservoir model the easiest one to open and close; the cap didn’t get stuck, and it’s easier to hold under a faucet for filling and cleaning.

I also love the mesh-side pockets for carrying sunscreen and energy bars, and the overlapping flap in the front to carry an extra layer or rain jacket. Find the Trinity at rei.com $115.00

Powderhorn Cosmic jacket

By Katie Morrison, explorebigsky.com Contributor

Fashion or function? With the Powderhorn Cosmic jacket both are included.

This waterproof breathable stretch softshell seems designed specifically for Southwest Montana’s finicky weather patterns. The cut remains flattering even with numerous layers underneath (“You’re wearing that many layers? It doesn’t even look fat!”), and continues to be comfortable when worn on its own thanks to a light, brushed flannel lining.

The jacket is at its best on a powder day when it can show off all the little details like the powder skirt with grip elastic that doesn’t slide up, the goggle wipe attached in the pocket, the subtle visor in the hood that keeps the snow out of your face, and the cuffs that can easily be adjusted, even while wearing mittens.

Take it for a lap in the Headwaters—the stretchy breathable fabric will move with you on the hike, and then again as you milk turns on the way down.

As the weather warms up this spring, the Cosmic remains the perfect all-mountain jacket. Zip off the removable powder skirt and unzip the vents for spring cruisers or aprés afternoons in the base area. powderhornworld.com

4FRNT Renegade 186
Dimensions: 135-122-129

By Mike Mannelin, Big Sky Weekly Contributor

Beanzy and I stood at the top of a wall of chutes.

“I’ve been knocked out by my sluff on this one, so you have to keep moving across,” he said.

I dropped in and made a ski cut across to a spine, sending my sluff down the gut of the chute. Then I turned my skis down the fall line and cruised to the bottom in front of it.

On any other pair 186’s I probably would have skied a little more conservatively, letting my sluff go by before I started again. With 4FRNT Renegades on my feet, I had the option of just getting out and staying in front of it.
The 186 Renegade is a stiff, full-rockered ski, handmade by 4FRNT in Salt Lake City. Its builders, Eric Hjorleifson and Cody Barnhill, have come up with a design that rips turns in tight trees and is super comfortable at high speeds. The maple core extends from sidewall to sidewall, making it one of the only skis on the market with no vertical laminations.

For a Montana skier, this translates into a sturdy construction that is fun to ride and holds up to abuse. Get your hands on a pair if you can.

Available in Big Sky at Gallatin Alpine Sports, or in Bozeman at Northern Lights Trading Company. 4frnt.com

Julbo Revolution goggles with Zebra lens

By Emily Stifler, explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

I am a chameleon.

When I ski in the sun, I don’t have to squint. When the shadows fall over the mountain, I can still see, even with my goggles on.

That’s because the Zebra lenses in my Julbo Revolution goggles are photo chromatic. They respond and block 49 to 93 percent of UV light in around 20 seconds, temperature dependent.

Julbo manufactures its lenses out of NXT, a derivative of Tyvex originally designed for use in military helicopter windshields and riot shields.

“So, it’s actually a ballistic material, but we don’t encourage people to shoot each other on the ski slope,” said Nick Yardley, the head of Julbo USA.

NXT has higher optical quality and scratch resistance than polycarbonate, the material from which most goggles are made, Yardley said. And since the photosensitive chemical is trapped inside the NXT, it can’t scratch or wear off.

Based in France’s Jura Mountains, Julbo has been making sunglasses since 1888 and is known for its high end lenses and mountaineering optics. Its ski goggles have been around for several years, but it wasn’t until recently that the company brought on Glen Plake and poured some serious effort into that line. It worked.

I’ve been wearing the Revolutions in the backcountry, and they’ve never fogged, even while skinning. Their medium fit is comfortable on my narrow face.

The extension strap makes them helmet compatible, and the silicone lining is good for making it not fall off my helmet.

My friends keep telling me they’re sitting crooked on my face. But they don’t feel crooked. So I’m wondering if it’s just my face.

Anyway, the Revolutions are comfortable, lightweight, bomber and even look cool. And they’re just one in a line of technical photo chromatic goggles that should meet the needs of any skier in the country, Yardley said.

Nice work, Julbo. You’ve arrived in the ski industry. julbousa.com $160

The Blaze splitboard binding from Spark R&D

by Erik Morrison, Explorebigsky.com Contributor

Things change pretty quickly these days in the snowboard industry. Technology, tricks, and fashion trends are here one moment and gone the next. You need to have a solid product or be a innovator to survive.

Fortunately Bozeman’s Spark R & D offers both: quality splitboard bindings and innovative features/accessories designed for function and fun. The Blaze is a true backcountry workhorse.

I found it extremely comfortable, responsive and lightweight. Its 1,640 gram base plate is low profile. Besides, it gave me one hell of a ride.

This season’s Blaze offered a variety of new performance driven features that I appreciated: custom highbacks with increased response, increased range of forward lean (25 to -5 degrees), redesigned straps to save weight on the way up and increase support while riding, and pre-curved latters that don’t snag while touring.

These features may not seem like much, but taken together over a season (over hundreds of hours, thousands of steps, and countless turns) they make all the difference.

After a few days on the Blaze, it was apparent that Spark had taken the results from their research and riders’ feedback to heart. The result is one of the most hard charging and progressive splitboard bindings I’ve ever ridden. This one is a must for any serious splitboarder.

Spark bindings are available at GAS in Big Sky,World Boards in Bozeman, and online at sparkrandd.com

Erik Morrison is a long time Big Sky local who spends much of his winters exploring the mountains of Southwest Montana.

Backcountry: Black Diamond Compacter poles

One of the hottest items in backcountry snowboarding this year, the Compacter poles are part of Black Diamond’s new z-pole series. Made of aluminum and weighing in at 1 lb and 4 oz per pair, they’re lightweight but bomber.

For the hike up, BD’s standard FlickLock closure allows 20 cm of adjustability, and their ergonomic pole grips and straps are adjustable with or without gloves. A low-profile grip lower on the shaft makes side-hilling or steep boot packing more comfortable. An internal tensioner mechanism allows the poles to stiffen and reduces the inevitable lateral wiggle.

For the ride down, the poles break down into three lengths held together with Kevlar cord, and fold into a neat package that snaps into the basket.

Because these poles have so many parts, make sure to dry them out at night so they don’t ice up.
They’re so fast to deploy, snowboarders may also find a single Compacter handy for traverses or runouts at the resort. Also great for snowshoers or as an extra travel pair of poles for skiers. E.S.

Available in three sizes at Gallatin Alpine Sports and Grizzly Outfitters in Big Sky, at Northern Lights Trading Co. in Bozeman, and online at blackdiamondequipment.com. $119.95

Avalanche airbag pack: Mystery Ranch Blackjack

By Emily Stifler, Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Mystery Ranch packs, the 10-year-old descendent of Dana Designs, is known for its big military contracts and bombproof backpacks. The Bozeman business—which employs 70 people and recently created a line of packs for wildfire professionals—keeps growing, even during hard times.

Now it’s made outdoor headlines for a new airbag backpack designed for avalanche professionals, specifically ski patrollers. Designer Kyle Christensen worked with pros to create the trim, 42-liter top-loader that’s got all the bells you want and none of the silly whistles.

The basic premise behind an airbag pack is this: You’re in an avalanche, and you’ve tried everything to escape, but to no avail. You pull a ripcord and a big nylon balloon explodes from the lid of your pack. Since larger objects with more surface area float in avalanches and smaller ones sink, you’re more likely to stay on top.

With OSHA considering requiring airbag packs for avalanche professionals, the Blackjack—the only airbag pack made in the U.S.—is particularly relevant. Aspen, Wolf Creek and other Colorado resorts ordered Blackjacks for their patrols this year.

The Blackjack is spot-on for patrol: The load capacity is significant, but trims down neatly with compression straps; an external shovel pocket fits pro-sized shovel and probe; and a side zipper allows easy access to layers or explosives. With customizable shoulder and waist harnessing, and meant-to-be abused construction, it’s classic Mystery Ranch. The downside: it ain’t light (nor is is cheap). The whole kit weighs in at 7.8 pounds.

“The big picture is that airbags work and … everyone should carry them,” says Mystery Ranch’s Ben Noble. “I’d like to see them become as common as beacons in the next five years.” He cites limited European research over the last decade that put airbag success rates in the 90th percentile.

This winter, Mystery Ranch is working on prototypes for smaller airbag packs designed for recreational users.

Available in Bozeman at Mystery Ranch and online at mysteryranch.com. Pro pricing available. Lifetime warranty. $975

Mystery Ranch Flat Bag

These come in outrageous colors, are made from random material scraps and cost $5. They’ll hold art supplies, secret documents or lunch. Mine is neon pink, and I hope it will earn me entrance to the Pink Powder Posse, an illustrious and exclusive all-women’s ski backcountry ski team. Get one. E.S.

Climbing Shoe: Scarpa Vapor-V

By Brandon Smith, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
Now that the snow is finally sticking, it’s time to hit the climbing gym and begin training for next season. However, your shoes are toast from a long season on the rock, so it’s time to go shopping. If you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for, but you don’t want to sacrifice comfort for performance, check out the Scarpa Vapor-V.

New this year, the Vapor-V is a shoe that should excite everyone. The opposing dual Velcro power straps allow quick on and off access, and wrap the foot for a nice snug fit. The suede/Lorica upper is very comfortable and will stretch if sized as a performance fit, as opposed to sizing-up for the all-day outings.

With its slightly down-turned last, the Vapor-V toes in on overhanging walls, yet climbs vertical faces and slabs like no other shoe out there. The thicker 4 mm X-Grip sole will survive abuse from beginners as they develop footwork and strength, but won’t sacrifice performance for intermediate and advanced climbers. Indoor or out, the Vapor-V climbs everything—sport routes, long traditional routes or bouldering in the gym.

The Vapor-V is a must have shoe for winter season training, and a great holiday gift for any climber. Find it at Northern Lights Trading Co. in Bozeman and scarpa.com. $139.00

Pack: Osprey Mutant 38

By Sam Magro, Explorebigsky.com Contributor
When one of the Weekly editors asked me to review an Osprey pack, it seemed logical to pick the one I like best: The Mutant 38.

I used this pack all last winter ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon, as well as on two massive mixed climbs in the Alps.

The Mutant is simple, strong and lightweight, with a design that serves exactly what it’s intended for, without any unnecessary frills.

On the schlep to the climb:
It carries well even when loaded full with hardware. Its ice-tool-bungee attachment system allows for easy tool loading and removal if you just need a tool for a short step. The hip belts have gear loops that will carry ice tools, carabiners or ice screw carriers.

On route:
Once on the climb, the Mutant 38 sleeks down so it’s not in the way. A great compression system, along with reverse hip belt storage, makes accessing your harness easy. The frame system sits low enough that your head doesn’t bump the pack as you look around on route.

If the load is too heavy to carry while climbing, there are three rated haul points to pull it up the pitch. The materials are tough enough that this kind of hauling won’t completely destroy the pack.

A quiver of one:
This pack is designed for short alpine climbing adventures or multi-day mountain trips, but would also work for lightweight summer overnighters. “It’s like a quiver of one,” says Osprey’s Gareth Martins. For those looking for more backpacking friendly features, check out Osprey’s Kestrel 38.

Available in Bozeman at Northern Lights Trading Co. osprepacks.com $149

Sam Magro is a professional mountain guide and photographer based in Bozeman.

Avalanche Transceiver: BCA Tracker

A simple thing can save your life. Although there’s nothing simple inside the Tracker 2 avalanche beacon, its use is easy enough to direct even a beginner to a buried buddy caught in a backcountry avalanche.

The tech heads at BCA took the Tracker 1, the most widely used beacon in the U.S., added a third antenna, and made a good thing better. The extra processor receives and computes transmitter waves from another beacon and relays the info at real-time speed.

The split-second speed increase is enough to make a panicked situation a bit easier. The Tracker 2 still comes with directional arrows on top and reads off meter distances as you run, walk and crawl (signal search, coarse search, fine search) to your buried friend.

Of course, buying the beacon that currently boasts a 55 percent hold on the market won’t dig out your pal. BCA offers all the gear you need to prepare for the powers that be in the backcountry. Get yourself a shovel and probe, and enroll in an avalanche safety course, because if you don’t know what to do, you’re buddy’s as good as a cooked mallard. T.A.

Available at Grizzly Outfitters in Big Sky; in Bozeman at Chalet Sports, Round House, Northern Lights Trading Co., Summit Motor Sports, REI and PhD Skis; and online at backcountryaccess.com. $289 to $335

Zippo hand warmer

By Abbie Digel, Explorebigsky.com Editor

This classic American company’s newest addition is their outdoor collection. For those who like the nostalgic feel of the old-fashioned Zippo pocket lighter, the top-selling hand warmer has a sleek design similar to the classic lighters.

The warmer, with tough metal construction will be your best friend when working in an early morning chill, starting your car, snowmobiling, ice climbing, winter fishing, or for warming your hands after a run down Lone Peak. It could also be a helpful addition to an emergency survival kit, which are recommended by the Big Sky Fire Department for households in Big Sky because of its remote location.

The process of setting them up is unique and fun: Fill the bottom half with lighter fluid, light the burner and slip in your pocket for 12 hours of warmth. The price is right at just under 20 bucks, so it’s cheaper than using the packets, and it’s also odorless, a bonus for hunters.

Purchase online at zippo.com or select outdoor retailers. $19.95

Zippo emergency fire starter kit

A perfect stocking stuffer for a backcountry enthusiast who likes to camp in cold temperatures for long periods of time, Zippo’s emergency fire starter kit doesn’t rely on fuel to get a fire started.

Starting a fire is easy with the water-resistant waxed tinder sticks. They come in a compact case with a built-in flint wheel for lighting the sticks. Make sure to also purchase a couple of campfire starter cedar pucks, which will start a fire in a cinch, even when wet.

The kit can be used to start four fires, is made from 100 percent recycled materials, and gives off a western red cedar aroma.

Don’t forget to throw these inexpensive tools into your pack and emergency survival kit, as well. You won’t regret it. A.D.

Purchase online at zippo.com or at select outdoor retailers. Fire Kit $19.95 Cedar Fire Starter $1.49

Light: JetLite

Working long days leaves little daylight for biking or skiing local trails. The solution comes with the A-51 Series from JetLite, a powerful LED system that throws out 700 lumens (standard headlamps give out anywhere between 35-80 lumens) to guide you through the night.

The overall system may seem bulky at first, says our creative director Mike Martins, “But as soon as you strap it to you handlebars or helmet, the A-51 becomes a seamless extension.”

The battery life of the 7.4v Lithium Ion 4500 has plenty of juice to last for your entire three-hour ride. Martins’s tip: Squeeze every ounce of power from the battery by setting it on low for uphill and high for downhill.

A great gift for the biker in your life, Jetlite also offers various mounting systems, so runners, skiers and hikers can enjoy night adventures. The JetLite A-51 Series is lightweight, customizable and puts out plenty of beam for the fastest riders of the night. jetlites.com $199 A.D.

Eggbar-Vise

When I saw the Eggbar-Vise for the first time I was skeptical; it seems that all contraptions I’ve used to hold skis or a board while tuning has been based upon the same concept as everything before it.

Either there’s no way to hold the ski in place for procedures requiring force on the base of the ski, or the clamping mechanism is hampered by variability in sidewall shape, construction or ski width. Most of the vises I’ve used in shops required readjustment every time a new ski was being worked on. These wasted efforts and minutes multiplied over the course of a day, and were frustrating.

The Eggbar-Vise’s strength is its simplicity. The ski tip is held under the bar at the head of the vise, so the ski’s weight holds it in place. The tail piece slides in tracks, supporting the ski tail.

Tension can be adjusted by sliding the tip in or out of the headpiece. The slot in the head and tail pieces allows the ski or board to be placed on edge for sidewall work or to sharpen a side edge.
The working surfaces of the vise are covered in a grippy weather seal, which is easily replaced as it gets torn up. After a month of hard use, it still looks nearly new. Replacing it a few times a season would be worth the time and effort saved by the vise itself.

I only ran into a few issues when using the Eggbar-Vise. Since the flex of the ski is what is holding it in place, I ran into situations where the ski would slowly slip backwards out of the head piece when scraping very hard on a soft ski, causing the ski to push the tailpiece back. This only happened when I was removing excess base material on a badly damaged base. If the tail piece had a way to be locked into place, this would solve the issue.

The fact that this device was developed in Bozeman and is made locally adds to my liking of it. Ace Fisher, the vise’s inventor, has been helpful and open to feedback and is able to make changes to the design very quickly in response. eggbarvise.com