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Standard equipment you will need: skis, boots, gaiters/supergaiters, poles, repair kit, skins, pack, thermos, lunch, a change of clothing in your car for the drive home.

What you wear will determine your comfort level. You can work up quite a sweat on the ascent and cool off dangerously fast at the top. The descent can soak you, and thoroughly chill you if you do a lot of crashing. If you are not dressed appropriately for each change in activity level and environment, you are putting yourself at risk. Most skiers dress in layers, peeling them off when they are working hard and putting them back on when they start the descent, stop for a break, or the wind picks up.

You will need long underwear (wool, polypropylene, or a combination of the two; not cotton), a windproof anorak, and trousers or bibs that won’t pick up snow if you should fall. Wind pants (lined or unlined) are a good addition. A good pair of gaiters or supergaiters, a wool or pile hat, warm mittens with separate wind and snow proof shells, a scarf or neck-gaiter, and a shirt make up the choices for a backcountry skier. When you stop for a break, emergency repair, etc., have a sweater or parka handy in your pack to put on right away to keep your heat from escaping. When you reach the high point and your turtleneck is damp from exertion, switch into a dry top for the descent.

Your boots and skis need to be in good shape. The backcountry is demanding and equipment breakdown can deprive you of a great ski and dangerously extend the time you are out. Any party of three of more skiers heading into the mountains should carry a pair of snow shoes. That way, if a ski breaks, a boot sole splits, or conditions are such that skiing is too difficult, a tired skier can switch into snowshoes and keep right up with the rest of the group.

Skis should be inspected for wear, metal edges should be sharp, bindings firmly attached. Your ski repair kit should include plenty of duct tape, a pole repair kit, a screwdriver and extra binding screws, extra cables or neoprene straps. Boots should be snow sealed and the soles inspected for cracks near the pin holes or at flex points, and for separation from the uppers before each trip. Supergaiters can protect boots from abrasion, are warm, and prevent the boot from soaking up moisture.

Poles should be sturdy and repairable. Adjustable poles provide options to be lengthened for ease on flat, rolling terrain and shortened for descents where a longer pole would get in the way. However, these can freeze up at the adjustment point and take a good grip (or two people) to release the catching mechanism. Some poles also develop problems in re-tightening because of frozen moisture inside the pole. A good compromise would be to have a sturdy mountain touring pole that is not too long and is fairly comfortable for both ascents and descents.

Mohair or nylon climbing skins are needed for most ascents. There are cheaper, plastic versions, called “snake skins”, or you can even tie a rope around the ski in front of the binding to provide the grip to climb. Skins should have adequate glue to stick to skis. Duct tape can help keep them on if your glue isn’t working, or if the skins get wet from repeated use. See the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning and reapplying glue to skins and do it at least once before each winter. Don’t forget the benefits of wax. Low angle approaches can be torturously slow on skins, compared to gliding along on a good wax job.

No one should walk up or down a trail. Switch to snowshoes if you are unable to climb with your skis on, or choose a different route. “Postholing” (boot holes) ruins the trail for others, making it very difficult to ascend, and very dangerous on the descents. This is an unforgivable, though common, offense of the inexperienced skier or winter hiker.

Last Updated: 10/21/12