Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lightweight Luxuries for Backcountry Skiers


Backcountry skiing is hard work with a big pay off: gorgeous snow, unbeatable views, unending possibilities for exploration, the list goes on.

It also involves sweat, sweat and more sweat.  Freezing sweat.  Cold fingers.  It involves putting up with a variety of discomforts in pursuit of your goal.

It is absolutely worth it.  AND there are things you can do to pamper yourself and boost your comfort while getting hard core.


My top ten list of lightweight luxuries

  1. A steamy, warm beverage.  I fill my water bottles with warm/hot water in the morning to keep my water at an enjoyable temperature longer and avoid water so cold it makes my teeth ring.  If you don't mind a  little extra weight, you can also throw a lightweight thermos full of tea or your beverage of choice in your pack.
  2. A full change of clothes for the car.  By the time I return to the car, nothing feels better than slipping into cozy, dry clothes and socks.  It makes for a happier, less stinky, ride home.  A bag of chips to crunch on the ride doesn't hurt either.
  3. A second pair of glove liners, gloves and/or puffy mittens.  Keeping your hands dry and warm will drastically increase your comfort.  I always bring an extra pair of glove liners so that I can change half way through the day.  My hands get sweaty while skinning uphill, making them freeze even more quickly during a lunch stop or when the wind picks up.  On really cold days, I throw in a pair of super puffy, primaloft-filled mits to put on during breaks.  It is much easier to keep your hands warm than to warm them up again after they freeze.
  4. Handwarmers.  Oh yeah!  Keep a couple handwarmers in the top of your pack for when you need a little extra warmth.  I especially like to tuck a couple around the waist of my pants to warm up my core.  They also work well taped (or otherwise attached) to wrists to keep the blood flowing into your fingers warm.
  5. Pay attention to your body and rhythms.  This is a luxury that you must give yourself.  You'll be able to go farther, push harder and have more fun if you listen to your body.  Hungry?  Eat.  Thirsty?  Drink.  Full bladder?  Pee.  Tired?  I mean really tired?  Take a break.  Full of energy?  Break trail to help keep the rest of your party moving fast.  This sounds simple, but I find it can be difficult to take the time to listen to yourself, and to speak up for what you need when you're in a group.
  6. Bring a delicious lunch & snacks that you'll look forward to eating.  Whether or not I actually get more usable energy from food I like, I feel much more energetic when I look forward to lunch and much more satisfied after a yummy treat than, say, a cliff bar (no offense to cliff bar lovers, they definitely have their time and place).  One of my personal favorite lunches is smoked salmon & cream cheese on a bagel.  Ryan and I enjoy trying different energy cookie recipes to replace the standard energy bars.
  7. Bring a spare baselayer top if you're in a wet/humid environment.  Skiing in the Cascades was much more pleasant when I changed my baselayer at lunch.  If I didn't, I stayed damp and clammy all day and became chilled much more quickly.  I often did not want to bring anything else in my pack and would leave the top at home, but I was happier when I brought it.  I find that there are ways to dry my baselayer out during the day here in the much drier Northern Rockies.
  8. Sit on your pack or bring a sit pad.  Keep those hard-working glutes warm!  Sit on your backpack during breaks, or if you're feeling really luxurious, bring a sit pad.  My sit pad is a 10 inch chunk cut from an old foam sleeping pad.  Very light, very nice to sit on.  
  9. Add an electrolyte powder or tablet to some of your water.  Adding an electrolyte to my water on long, hard days keeps me feeling better all day long.  You don't need to gulp liters and liters of the stuff, but one liter makes a difference.  My favorite electrolyte drink right now is lemon-lime flavored Nuun.  Nuun is an electrolyte tablet without corn syrup or sugar, and comes in a handy plastic tube.  I also use Gatorade on occasion or Emergen-C.
  10. Bring a map to help you identify peaks and couloirs!  You should always bring a map for safety, but I am also enjoy getting to know the surrounding topography.  Plus you just may identify your next great trip.  You can print topo maps for free at hillmap.com.
Keeping my fingers toasty warm

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