This is the year you’re going to do it—get the good things you need to go into the backcountry the right way. The choices can be daunting, though, so we went to the experts at Calafate in Mejiro, a great all-in-one, independent mountain shop (just how they fit so much stuff, and knowledgeable staff, in such a compact space is a mystery of packing). Jun Yano gives us his choice on gear; Reiji Arayama is the man for wear.
Powder is the word: skis are wide, with powder-specific tips and rocker—the front end raised like a kayak. Some of the best: Black Diamond for their big Megawatt and Justice, and the new Drift, part of the company’s new Efficient Series of light/powder skis; K2’s Backside collection for everything from the lightweight Wayback to the first of the über-skis, the Pontoon. Just one choice? The all-around K2 Backlash, perfect for both telemark and AT (Alpine Touring, aka randoneé).
Telemark Bindings and Boots
The non-duckbill NTN binding has yet to catch on (the makers are pushing it; the skiers aren’t buying), but there are plenty of burly traditional bindings. The Rottefella Cobra and G3 Targa remain popular choices. Recommended is the Black Diamond 01, with a free-pivot tour mode to make ascents easier.
For boots, most people are looking at high performance such as Scarpa T Race and T1, Garmont’s Voodoo and the Black Diamond Push. However, let’s go with Yano-san’s favorite: the Scarpa T2 Eco, made from a castor bean-based plastic, perhaps the most versatile boot, a little lighter—and Scarpa’s bestseller.
Alpine Touring (AT) Bindings and Boots
TLT (Dynafit Tourlite Tech, or TL Tech) bindings lightness is making them the favorite in Japan. Originally designed for Raid racing, these bindings with a pin system in the toe have gotten a little stronger without adding much weight. Heavy huckers or monster ski owners may still want something as solid as the traditional Marker Duke; for the rest, look at the G3 Onyx. With heavier TLT bindings, bigger boots are possible: the Garmont Axon, Black Diamond’s Factor or Method for TLT. For a big, powerful AT boot, the new Scarpa Mobe.
For a two-piece, Black Diamond’s two-piece Pure Carbon poles (or any other in the line); the Expedition for a three-piece. Simply the best cost performance.
Shovel / Probe
Lots of choices here too but, again, for cost-performance, you won’t do better than Black Diamond Deploy shovels with the nifty self-storing handles and the Quickdraw Carbon Fiber Probe.
The one item, hopefully, you will never use (but practice anyway). Today’s digital, three-antennae beacons are easier and more accurate than ever; the Tracker 2 and Pieps DSP are both solid units (the venerable Orthvox F1 also just keeps on going), but Calafate’s recommendation is the Mammut Barryvox.
Arayama puts it simply, “For most backcountry skiing, it’s more about staying cool than keeping warm.” So you’ll need a good hardshell jacket—but you probably will keep it in your backpack most of the time.
Here’s the solution: under-underwear first, like Finetrack’s Floodrush Fine Mesh to wick sweat away from the skin; a base layer of Häglöfs’ Actives Zip topped off by the Patagonia Talus Hoody.
You won’t be drenched in sweat when you reach the top, and be ready to enjoy getting down on all that shiny new stuff on your feet and in your pack.
Calafate doesn’t do much in the snowboard category, so we turned to Paul Vanderheiden from Japow Tours who runs guided snowboard tours up in the deep Hakkoda backcountry.
To really surf the snow on those special powder days, you can’t go wrong with the Burton Fish, the board that kicked off the powder revolution. The Fish is great for Japan tree riding, as it excels in tight turns and deep stashes while keeping you afloat.
If you want to support some small companies making great boards and impress your friends with your cool ride, check out Venture’s Storm (Silverton, Colorado) and Prior’s Pow Stick (Whistler, B.C.), or really stay local and grab yourself a Gentem Stick (Niseko, Hokkaido). If you’re not yet fully committed, Ride’s Slackcountry and Burton’s Malolo are great crossover boards that will let you float in powder stashes at the resort and still perform well on the groomers.
www.calafate.jp (Online Store)