Thursday, December 13, 2012

My first AT setup

I've been skiing since I was 9 years old.  My parents divorced when I was 8 and skiing was one of the activities my dad got us into on our weekends with him.  I didn't ski much in high school because of swimming but picked it up later in college.  After moving to San Diego and sailing pretty much full time, the skis got hung up for a few years again.  But in 2000, I met my wife, who's hometown is Bishop, CA, a short 30 minute drive to Mammoth Mountain, one the best places to ski on earth.  I couldn't NOT start skiing again.  So for the next few years, I just rented and demo'd skis to see what I had been missing.  At the time, I had missed the whole shaped ski revolution so the new skis completely changed my experience.  The new shapes made skiing so much easier and I found myself progressing back into the aggressive and bigger lines quite a bit quicker than I had expected.  And at Mammoth Mountain, there's no shortage of steep, big lines.

I find myself however hiking more often than not, looking for the less tracked, more adventurous terrain.  This quest for more and bigger stashes lead me to skiing more sidecountry and true backcountry lines, just as the trend for side country access and alpine touring gear was beginning to take off.

6 years ago, alpine touring gear was hard to come by.  Most AT gear was lightweight and made more for mountaineers who were willing to trade ski-ability for lightweight.  The only real option for traditional alpine type bindings that could tour was the venerable Fritschi Freeride binding and some boots from Scarpa and Garmont.  I spent 2 years renting equipement from REI when my buddies and I wanted to spend some days in the backcountry, which was expensive and inconvenient.  For the past 4 years, I've been dreaming of my perfect AT setup and this winter finally got the green light to invest in some real gear.

The real issue has always been finding the funds in the budget to pull the trigger.  As you know, most of my recreation time is spent cycling, which is not a cheap sport.  So my quest turned to putting together an AT setup for less than $600.

I'm happy to report, mission accomplished!  It took some work however.

Skis can eat up quite a bit of the budget so I set out to find something in good shape but a few years old.  After and thorough search I finally landed on a pair of Rossignol B94's that had been mounted once but never used.  The real kicker?  They were only $80!  Sure, they're a few years old and I'm missing out on the whole rocker revolution, but they're plenty wide, have a wood core and are leaps and bounds an upgrade from my 12 year old 70 mm wide Rossignol Bandit X's.  Those skis served me well so I think I'll get some good years out of the "new" B94's.

The benefit in waiting this past few years to invest in my own gear is that technology for AT gear has really progressed. I don't trust used bindings, so I found a killer deal online for a new pair of model year 2011 Marker Baron AT bindings.  Marker really got the ball rolling with resort worthy AT bindings with the Duke about 5 years ago, but I don't need a DIN of 16, so I saved a few pesos going with the Baron, which tops out with a DIN of 13.

The final piece of the puzzle was boots.  Just about every major boot maker now has a high end alpine boot with a walk function and gripy rubber soles, so I had a lot of options.  I'm actually convinced all ski boots should have a walk function and traction soles, simply for getting through the parking lot!

With my previous resort setup, I was actually in boots that were way too big.  I managed with thick socks and aftermarket insoles, but a loose fitting boot surely isn't ideal. I've been very satisfied with the Scarpa Typhoon and Tornados I've demo'd over the years but good luck finding a deal on Scarpas.  So I narrowed my search to the Lange Blaster Pro and Salomon Quest 12 boots.  I've owned Langes before, you know, the badass yellow ones from 20 years ago that made you at least look like you were legit?  But I couldn't find a pair to try on in Ogden.  There is an awesome Salomon dealer however close by, so I went in, tried on a few sizes and settled on the Quest 12.  The guys at Alpine Sports were very gracious in letting me shop fully knowing my intention to go online.  Salomon also has its NA headquaters here in Ogden, so its nice to support local companies.  The pair I found online were new in box so I now I'm set!

I really prefer to support the local shops, but just couldn't do it on my budget.  I did have Alpine Sports mount my ride and do my boot fit.  I'm sure their margins are better on service anyway, so I made sure to share the love.

Now, I just need to use the stuff!  I was dying watching my friends take in the first turns of the year on October and November before the resorts opened, but no longer! I have freed myself from the confines of lift tickets and ropes and look forward to many backcountry days.  I'll review my gear once I get on it and hopefully will help someone else make their own freeing AT purchase this year.

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