Spring Ski Touring - making the gear work for you

Spring Ski Touring - making the gear work for you

Words and Photos by Tom Beaumont

Epic spring turns in Darwin Bowl, Tasman Glacier

Human-powered skiing is hard work at the best of times. Compared to any kind of mechanically accessed skiing - rope tows, surface lifts, high-speed detachable chairs, gondolas, sleds, or (keep dreaming) helicopters - ‘earning your turns’ often seems like ‘type 2 fun’. Sometimes with the fun part missing.

There are a few parts of the equation that make a big difference in how fun the experience will be.

The first part is simple. Understand the avalanche conditions - read the bulletin, observe the weather, assess the snowpack. If the conditions are beyond your ability to safely manage, then stay on the resort or at home. Avalanches make for bad days.

Being in good shape makes a big difference too. Good fitness will help you to move more efficiently, reduce the chance of injury, cover more ground (i.e. get more turns = more fun!), and enjoy the down rather than being a jelly leg mess. Slightly less obvious but equally important - watching your weight. There’s no point spending your house deposit on carbon this and lightweight that if you’re lugging a couple of kegs around on the belly.

A major part of the equation is having the right gear for the job.

Some people think this is a snobby view. And to some extent they are right. You don’t need the latest and greatest to have fun in the mountains, but after a certain point, it makes a big difference to the fun-o-meter.

The importance of gear is accentuated in spring. In winter, when there’s snow down low and lifts are turning on ski fields, many ski tourers will target the low hanging fruit. Sidecountry laps, or at least starting the day at the top of a lift, makes ski touring life a bit easier and gearless important. However, once October rolls around, you have to go further and further to get turns. Eventually, when sane people have long since put their skis into summer storage, finding snow requires multi-day tramping efforts. At this point gear really matters - it needs to be light, and it needs to be efficient.

There’s always a valid toss-up between weight and performance. For instance, many folks tour on skis which ski really well, despite a weight penalty over the lightest weight options. As weight becomes more of a factor - usually dictated by distance - some types of performance can be compromised, for instance, the type of binding you might utilise. This is why you don’t tend to see Marker Dukes three days walk from a road end. However, as you get further and further away from civilisation, performance factors like dependability and durability, become more important than weight alone.

Probably my favourite bit of gear is my pack. It’s a custom pack which Cactus designed and built. As the proud owner of several other Cactus packs, Rob and the team were understandably surprised when I started talking about a custom job. However, what I had in mind wasn’t really an off-the-shelf number. I was after one pack which would function equally well as a 20-litre day pack, or an 80-litre multi-day monster. It had to properly carry my skis, axes, ropes, and other gear in either configuration. It needed to take a lifetime of abuse, and be really lightweight, and be all black. And it needed to have a roll-top. Cactus did a fantastic job of turning scribbles and yarns into a work of beautifully finished canvas artwork. The end result is an efficient piece of gear, which adds minimal weight to the load, and will last longer than I will. It’s everything I need, and nothing I don’t. Most importantly - it makes my days in the mountains better.

The walk into places like Barker Hut in Arthurs Pass are long and hard, making the right gear all the more important. My Cactus pack makes light work of 4 days worth of food, camping equipment, and climbing and ski gear.

The same pack doing daypack duty on the Tasman Glacier. I find it really valuable having a pack which hauls all my gear on long approaches but then works well for shorter missions from your camp or hut base.

Spring so far has involved some epic trips - the Tasman and Murchison Glaciers and an attempt on Mt Sibbald being highlights. As we move further into spring, the hunt for skiing will hopefully include a trip onto the West Coast Glaciers to ski the Minarets and a mission up to Barker Hut at the head of Wiamak.

We had a stab at Mt Sibbald in late September but got turned around by really high temperatures and a rapidly destabilizing snowpack.

A break from skiing in the top of the Wiamak - dreaming of lines off Carrington Peak.

Spring skiing isn’t all slush and corn. Here Tai rips up some late September cold smoke under Hochstetter Dome, Tasman Glacier.

Good luck with your adventures. Stay safe, and see you out there!