The best snow-sports gear
Seattle Times gear reviewer looks at snow-sports gear for this winter.
Special to The Seattle Times
Snow Sports 2008
When the money belt gets tight, you need look no further than the great outdoors for a bit of fun and relaxation. A modest investment in gear can provide years of payback.
Gear makers who focus on snow play offer an array of great new gear this year designed to keep you warm, safe and happy in the winter wonderlands.
MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes
These snowshoes provide the best traction on steep terrain we've ever experienced with snowshoes. That's no small claim — we used the Lightning Ascent on steep climbs up Mount St. Helens, around the slopes of Mount Baker and up and over the Pinnacle Saddle on Mount Rainier.
The entire frame, made from a single vertical strip of rigid aluminum, acts as a traction bar. The bottom edge of this bladelike frame is serrated to slice into the crustiest snow. Torsion bars under the footpad provide additional traction. The three-strap binding system keeps your foot locked securely in place, even when traversing sharply angled slopes.
Our testers had but one complaint about the Ascents: the lack of add-on tails like those found on other MSR shoes. Without that extra bit of versatility, these are just great rather than perfect.
The Lightning Ascents are available in three men's sizes (22- and 25-inch, retailing for $259.95; and 30-inch, $289.95) as well as two women-specific sizes (22- and 25-inch, both $259.95). See www.msrcorp.com.
Tubbs Frontier Series snowshoes
Snowshoers looking for a casual pace and a lower price should appreciate the Tubbs Frontier Series. These 'shoes are nearly half the price of the top-end MSRs, and while they lack the climbing ability of the Lightning Ascents, they work well for casual tramps along mountain meadows and forest trails. The Frontier's bindings are a snap to use — the integrated strap system secures you in the binding with a single adjustment tab, making it easy to get the snowshoes on and off. The Frontiers — available in two men's, and two women's-specific sizes — offer plenty of flotation and more than adequate traction on flat and rolling terrain. The Frontier series sells for $139.99. See www.tubbssnowshoes.com.
Washington hikers can often venture out into the winter wilderness without snowshoes. Our dense, wet snow frequently consolidates into the classic "Cascade Concrete," eliminating the need for the extra flotation provided by snowshoes. But even then, you'll want traction.
Likewise, when mountain trails are icy but lacking deep snow, you'll want to get a good bite on the slick surface. That's where Kahtoola steps in with its Microspikes. The rubber harness snaps around any boot, or even trail shoes, pulling stainless-steel chains — and 3/8-inch spikes — across the entire sole and providing a sure grip on even moderately steep slopes. We used them on the ice-laden North Loop Trail in Mount Rainier National Park last spring, and they worked flawlessly. When crampons are too much, but boot soles aren't enough, the Microspikes are a quick, easy alternative. $59; www.kahtoola.com.
Native Eyewear Mission ski goggles
The Native Eyewear Mission goggles represent this sunglass-maker's inaugural venture in ski goggles, and in this case, the first time is charmed. The Mission features a high-quality, spherical soft-flex lens for extra clarity and no eyestrain. The replaceable lens is polarized and flexible frames fit medium-to-large faces. The Missions snap snugly around helmets and ride comfortably on the face, with good straight-ahead and peripheral vision. They sell for $135, while a larger version — the Siege — runs $155. See www.nativeeyewear.com.
Patagonia Talus jacket
Participation in winter outdoor sports places a lot of demands on clothing. Your outerwear needs to repel inclement weather and seal in warmth, but also needs to be breathable enough that excess heat and perspiration can escape. Bottom line, you want to stay warm, but not hot — and certainly not damp with sweat. The Patagonia Talus, using Patagonia's version of Polartec Powershield materials, is a perfect cold-weather soft shell. The smooth outer face sheds rain, wind and snow, while the soft, fleecy inner face provides a warm insulating layer. The breathable Powershield features four-way stretch, so the jacket moves with you as you ski, snowshoe or climb. Patagonia cuts the Talus to fit comfortably but without being baggy. That means you can layer under it without bulking up. The Talus is available in men's and women's sizes, for $250. See www.patagonia.com.
Filson whipcord pants and Merino wool shirt
Technology and innovation have their place, but sometimes the old ways are better. When it comes to staying warm in the winter, few modern fabrics match wool. Wool insulates, even when wet, and includes natural antimicrobial properties, so odor doesn't build up in woolen apparel.
Best of all, wool is an environmentally friendly fabric, and you can get great woolen wear designed, and sewn, right here in Seattle. Filson, a century-old Seattle business, still does most of its production in town (in the Sodo District), and its classic whipcord pants and new Merino wool button-down shirts can't be beat.
The whipcords fit comfortably loose. We tested them skiing on the Methow Valley ski trails and snowshoeing around Mount Rainier. The Merino shirt is a traditional design that we found perfectly suited for those same outings. Best of all, at the end of a long day of skiing, you can simply brush off the snow, slip off any outerwear, and stride into the finest après-ski establishment looking stylish and clean.
The whipcords, in waist sizes 30-40 inches and a range of inseam lengths, sell for $189.50. The Merino Wool shirt, sizes S-XXL, sells for $137.50. See www.filson.com.
Freelancer Dan A. Nelson of Puyallup is a regular contributor to Backpacker magazine, and an author of outdoor guides with The Mountaineers Books. For the purpose of review, gear manufacturers lend products, which are returned after a typical use of four to six weeks. There is no payment from manufacturers and they have no control over the content of reviews. Contact Nelson with gear-related questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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