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TGR Tested: Women’s Spring Backcountry Skiing Favorites

TGR staff writer Katie Lozancich out for a spring walk in Grand Teton National Park. Charlotte Percle photo.

Ah, spring. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and it’s now the season for 5 AM wake-ups to go corn hunting in the alpine. While the temptation to head south for some desert adventures might seem alluring, it’s worth putting them off a little longer to squeeze those last spring turns from the mountains. Plus, not having to worry about frostbite or wearing a gazillion layers while skinning is pretty top-notch. For the ladies in our audience, if you’re not ready to put your skis into storage just yet then I’ve got a few pieces of gear worth considering for your next spring mission. All of the following items have been put to the test right here in the Grand Tetons, and are my go tos for a long sunny walk in the snow.

Backcountry Cottonwood GORE-TEX Bib Pant

This is Backcountry’s first-ever line of outerwear, and they really put a lot of thought into the design. Backcountry photo.

Trying to find the right pair of women’s bibs can often leave you feeling like Goldilocks. One pair might be constructed well but the thigh area fits too tight. Another might fit perfectly, but the designer failed to include a pee flap, forcing you to strip down in the howling snow every time nature calls. That’s the worst. Backcountry on the other hand did things just right with the Cottonwood GORE-TEX Bibs.

Left: I love the bibs for filming. All the extra pockets come in handy. Right: The top part of the garment can fully unzip to become a pair of standalone pants.

What initially stood out to me about this pair of bibs was the fit. Backcountry nailed the “relaxed” fit look, creating a garment that isn’t restrictive but fitted enough that you’re not swimming in it. The colorways for this year are beautiful. I opted for the huckleberry color, which my friends nicknamed “sexy eggplant”. On top of a cool silhouette, the brand thought out all the little details when it came to the design. Right up front is a big mesh pocket that was designed to hold your skins—which is super handy—however, I’ve used it as a sunglasses/liners pouch for when I’m skinning. There’s also a pocket right on the chest designed for your beacon and it has an elastic band you can hook it to. One other cool aspect about these bibs that makes them great for spring touring is that they can be converted into pants. The upper top can be fully unzipped and Voilà! You’ve suddenly got yourself a pair of Gore-Tex pants. The versatility of these bibs has made them my favorite for not only skiing but also when I’m shooting in the field. All the pockets on the front are nice for stashing snacks or lens caps.

Beyond the garment’s cool bells and whistles, it has tough, durable Gore-Tex fabric that keeps you dry in all kinds of weather conditions.

Icebreaker Underwear

Don’t go skimping on your undies when you backcountry ski! Icebreaker photo.

When you think of ski kits, underwear isn’t probably high on your priority list, but a pair of Icebreaker undies can go a long way on a hot day. The bra and panties are made with 83% natural New Zealand merino wool, meaning that they’re soft and silky to touch. But you might be wondering, “what do soft undies have to do with ski touring?” On top of being super comfortable, Merino is great at resisting odor and transporting sweat away from your skin. If you’re wearing merino base layers, but have cotton undergarments underneath them it kind of defeats the purpose. That sweaty bra is gonna make you pretty chilly the second you step into the shade and the wind starts howling.

What’s great about Icebreaker’s line of delicates is that they have a variety of styles to choose from. Personally, my favorites are the Siren Bralette and Bikini briefs. They’re sturdy enough for outdoor activities, but can be worn around the town when you head in for a celebratory beer. The bralette doesn’t have any annoying underwire, and you can add additional padding to the front if you’re looking for extra support. They’re also super cute, and if you feel cute skiing then you’re way more likely to go faster. It’s scientifically proven.

Pomoca 2.0 Skins

Fun fact: POMOCA has been making climbing skins since 1939. POMOCA skins photo.

A good pair of climbing skins can go a long way. If they’re designed well they can shave weight off your skis, glide easier uphill, and keep snow from globbing up on the bottom. With that being said, POMOCA’s climb 2.0 checks all those boxes and has become my favorite pair of climbing skins. Right away I was impressed with how easy they were to cut right from the box. POMOCA includes a nifty tool for cutting that makes trimming your skins a breeze. All in all it took me three minutes to have them perfectly fitted to my bases.

In general, there are three kinds of skins you can get: synthetic, mohair, and a blend of the previous two, and they all have their pros and cons. POMOCA opted for a blend of 70% mohair—sourced from South African goats—and 30% nylon, which means the skins are the best of both worlds. You get that amazing glide of mohair, but the durability of nylon. Fun fact: Pomoca even has a web tool to show you which farm provided the mohair to make your skins. It’s part of their initiative to create more sustainable and ethical products. They also treat their skins with what they call the “ever dry 3.0” which is a hydrophobic treatment that is free of perfluorocarbons (PFCs). This is huge because PFCs are toxic to both humans and animals, and by using Ever Dry 3.0 POMOCA became the first-ever skins brand to become PFC-free. The brand was also able to shave off extra unnecessary weight through some fancy technology they like to call “Safer Skin Light.” Essentially it’s a membrane design that eliminates 60-75 grams of weight, without losing any of its waterproof properties. And these little details and tweaks are important because it means the skin is even lighter, which always helps on the ascent.

As far as how they do in the wild, the grip is surprisingly sturdy on all kinds of snow conditions. It hasn’t failed me on after-work ski tours up the local ski hill when it’s firm and cold out or on steep skinners in Grand Teton National Park. Nothing drives me crazier than a skin collecting copious amounts of snow as you move uphill. Thankfully, POMOCA’s hydrophobic coating does a good job of keeping the skins snow-free, which let me focus on the important part of my day: topping out.

Ortovox HAUTE ROUTE 38 S Backpack

A well-designed backcountry pack like the Ortovox Haute Route means you don’t have to worry about not having enough space for all your gear. Ortovox photo.

My favorite part about spring skiing is that the snowpack usually settles down to the point that you can attempt some more technical lines. But when you start venturing into bigger and more complicated objectives it means packing a few more things in your backcountry bag. A backpack like Ortovox’s Haute Route lets me bring along all the extra ropes and metal bits without worrying about how it is going to fit in my bag. This bag is designed with ski mountaineering objectives in mind with all kinds of useful external attachments to strap down extra necessities like ice axes, ski poles, and crampons. One of my favorite features is the external rope fastening system, which allows you to cinch down a rope snugly on the top part of the bag.

The Haute Route comes in a variety of sizes: 32, 38, 38 S, and 40. I prefer the 38 S because I have a shorter torso and this model is specifically designed for women. For this model, Ortovox shortened the back and made the straps a little narrower, however, everyone’s body is different and I recommend measuring your torso to see which model works best for you. The 38 is a great size for longer ski days. I have no problem fitting the absolute essentials like a packed down emergency down jacket, a polar fleece zip-up, my lunch, an emergency bivy, repair kit, first aid kit, and one liter of water. If I feel like I’m running out of room, then I can also strap things to the outside to free up extra space. Another feature that’s a big win is that Ortovox designed it with a larger hip belt. When it’s synched down it does a good job of transferring the weight onto your hips and keeping it off your shoulders. The belt also has some useful loops for keeping things like carabiners and belay devices close by.

Here are a few ways you can store/strap gear to the bag. Ortovox diagram.

One other cool thing about this bag is that it’s really easy to fit an f-stop internal camera unit inside. I’ve used a medium-sized unit in the bag and was able to fit a DSLR and three lenses comfortably. Plus, I still had some space above the ICU for extra layers and snacks. Granted you sacrifice some space for normal ski gear, but It makes this bag into a pack that can carry both photo and mountaineering equipment, which is harder to find with camera bags.

Dynafit TLT Speedfit 10 Binding

You’re probably wondering, “where’s the rest of the binding?” The Dynafit Speedfit 10 is a no-frills lightweight touring machine. Dynafit photo.

The first-ever pair of touring bindings I owned were these ancient Fritschi frame bindings. Touring in them was like driving an old Buick that had transmission problems. Over time it got me where I needed to go, but boy did I have to work for it. Now touring with the Dynafit TLT Speedfit 10 pin bindings feels like I was upgraded to a little Fiat. They’re fast, lightweight, and have no unnecessary bells and whistles to them.

If you’re looking for a straightforward simple binding oriented for uphill travel, then this would take the cake. I currently have them mounted on a pair of Atomic Backlands, and the two make for a nimble corn slaying machine. The bindings take little effort to use and switching them in and out of walk/ski mode simply requires a quick 180 twist of the heel. Other features worth noting are that DIN on the heel ranges from 5 to 10, and the heel has two risers that can be quickly flipped up with a flick of your ski pole.

Left: Having an ultralightweight binding is hugely important for carrying around heavy camera gear in the backcountry—every gram counts! Right: Putting the bindings to the test on Teton Pass.

But by far the best feature of these bindings is their weight. Without brakes, they weigh in at a mere 1.25 pounds for the pair and you can hardly feel them touring. For some perspective, the G3 ION 12 weighs in at 2.6 pounds and the Atomic Shift is 3.13 pounds. Granted, the trimmed-down design does come with some sacrifices, most notably that you probably don’t want to huck any cliffs wearing them. They’re not intended for large impacts or skiing at a World Cup ski pace. Personally, that’s not a problem. As the great Katie Burrell once said, “I’m just here for the leisure,” and these bindings are perfect for my two-foot airs and weekend adventures hunting for couloirs. In more consequential terrain—like dropping into a steep couloir—I’ve at times locked my toe piece out for some extra reassurance. 

From The Column: TGR Tested

Great review from the TGR team. I particularly love the bindings that you showcased here. Needless to say, it is one of the most important pieces of equipment in skiing and you should never be thrifty about them. Always get the high-quality ones. Thanks for sharing this! Emergency Tree Service

That speed fit binding is a dream of mine ever since I started skiing. I’m still at the beginner level but someday I do wish to use pro-level equipment like this. Thanks for the review! These are a big help! Residential Roofing

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