Ski mountaineering is more than just getting away from it all. The idea is to get away and take almost all of it with you in terms of safety and comfort. An exotic gadget like an eight-ounce radio beeper, for example, is not a call-your-office device but a transmitter whose signal could enable rescuers to locate someone buried in an avalanche. The most-used model is the Pieps, $62.50, and most backcountry parkas now have inside pockets to hold them. A less expensive alternative is an avalanche cord such as the Edelrid ($4.90), a bright orange, hollow line that is attached to the waist and trails out and floats up in a snowslide. At mountaineering hot spots like Crested Butte and Telluride, skiers tend to carry both, plus a shovel. A new generation of ski poles also has been produced with mountaineering in mind. Company 3's $34.95 model features a telescope adjustment—longer for touring, shorter for downhill—and the poles can be screwed together at the handles to form a 10-foot avalanche probe.
Similar advances have come in skis, bindings, boots and clothes. Among the favorites for the backcountry are the lightweight Fischer Europa 99, a $109 skinny ski, the $99.50 Trucker Light Edge and the $110 heavy-duty Trucker Mountain Edge, which is expressly designed for mountaineering. Among the seemingly fragile cross-country bindings that can actually be used in the high hills is the Silva Snabb ($8.75), which is easy to repair and wide enough at the toe to accommodate all ski boots. The $85 Ramer binding is heavier, offers toe-pivot control for touring and a release-locking heel for downhill, plus a climbing plug to raise the heel for steep slopes.
Time was when all mountaineers packed ski boots for the hike up, and put them on at the summit for the ride back down. But new double boots like the San Marco Raid ($139), the Kastinger-Messner ($124.95) and the Galibier-Makalu ($155) go everywhere, including to bed—the soft inner-boots may be kept on for added warmth in a sleeping bag. More flexible construction and Vibram soles make the boots suitable for climbing.
In ski togs, warmth and comfort beat beauty every time. The high tourers prefer all-wool innerwear, which maintains 50% of its insulating quality even when wet, and they pile it on in layers. The latest import from Norway is Helly Hanson's ski underwear ($80). The long Johns are lined with non-scratchy, quick-drying fake shearling pile; the skier wears them lining in or lining out depending on the weather. A wide variety of wind suits and outerwear is also available. Early Winters offers a 17-ounce, $80 parka made of Gore-Tex, a waterproof fabric that breathes. It has flaps and pockets all over the place, a drawstring hood complete with visor, a storm skirt—even underarm zippers to let in cool air when needed. For face protection, Scott makes a $6 hard plastic mask that fits onto ski goggles, pretty much like the masks worn by dirt-bike racers to keep rocks out of their teeth. And for hands there is the preshrunk wool Dachstein mitten ($12.95). Under that, the skier wears another pair of woolen mitts, and under that, the Millar Mitt ($12), designed with half fingers to allow you to tie knots or adjust gear without removing the mitt. And anybody who can figure out how to do that in the cold is about ready to become a ski mountaineer.