Words — Jen Murphy
Featured Image: Niklas Söderlund
The most cutting-edge innovations in technology, communications and durability are being integrated into the latest ski gear, from boots and helmets to avalanche safety essentials like shovels and packs. Here are five of the new must-have pieces of equipment that will help keep you safe while providing next-level comfort on the hill and in the backcountry.
Db x Safeback SBX Backcountry Vest
Safeback, an Bergen-based brand founded by three engineers and backcountry fanatics, is revolutionizing backcountry safety with its new SBX avalanche survival system. There’s gear that helps keep skiers above the snow when they’re caught in an avi, but there was a hole in the market when it came to technology to help skiers once they became buried in the snow. Research shows that air starts to run out within 10 minutes of being buried and studies have found that after 35 minutes, a victim has only a 10% chance of survival. Safeback SBX is extending that window. The first-of-its-kind breathing assistance system actively provides clean air to the victim’s air pocket in the snow, extending the survival window for up to 90 minutes after burial in an avalanche or a tree well.
Safeback has collaborated with Scandi travel bag brand Db to develop the world’s first backcountry vest with integrated Safeback SBX technology. Essentially, they’ve turned a super roomy pack with 8 liters of storage in the back and two super roomy front panel pockets into an air pocket to breathe from if trapped beneath the surface of the snow. And unlike other packs, it doesn’t require a mouthpiece. The actual air intake device is located within the bag on the wearer’s back and two hoses extend from the air intake and run up through the vest’s shoulder straps. When trapped, the wearer simply pulls the orange activation handle from the left shoulder strap to start to release air—delivering at least 2L per minute—to the breathing area through the snow. According to a medical study where 20 participants were buried twice (once w/o supplemental air, and once with 2L per minute), it was determined that the there is a minimum volume of 2L when the head is craned back and there are 10 inches of snow between the outlets and the mouth/nose. The closer your breathing area is to the outlets underneath the snow, the more air you receive.
The Safeback SBX system works off of Energizer Ultimate AA Lithium batteries which even at -22 degrees Fahrenheit can deliver air for 90 minutes. And at a temperature of around 30 degrees, it can pump out air for up to 160 minutes. (Despite having longer runtimes at warmer temps, Safeback only promises 90 minutes of breath time with the device). Hitting the U.S. market in fall 2023, it’s definitely not a replacement for safety protocol, but it provides extra time to extend the life expectancy for buried victims. MSRP: $699
POC Dimension Avalanche Backpack
If you want to move fast, light, and safely through big mountain terrain, look no further than POC’s new Dimension Avalanche Backpack. This next gen pack combines supreme craftsmanship and durability with latest safety technology. The Swedish brand teamed up with Alpride SA—Swiss specialists in avalanche airbag systems—to incorporate its new, fully electronic Alpride E2 system with supercapacitor technology into the pack. Not only does this result in a lighter back (around seven pounds), but it also offers more volume and deploys faster than the E1 version. The updated E2 model is 40% smaller and 25% lighter than the original version and the supercapacitor powered fan allows the bag to be fully inflate in under four seconds and be deployed numerous times. The addition of an LCD display makes it simple check the charging level of its AA battery status. Other safety enhancements include a RECCO reflector to make skiers super visible to rescuers and a medical ID near-field communication chip from twICEme, which stores critical first aid data for first responders to use. And there are plenty of clever utility-focused design features we love, like the fleece-lined goggle pock and drainage holes in the exterior pocket that allows water from wet skins to escape while the rest of your kit stays dry. Because the airbag doesn’t use Li-Ion batteries or gas canisters it’s TSA-approved for all airlines, making it a great option for powder chasers. MSRP: $1,300
Flaxta Deep Space Alpha Mips Helmet
Swedish sports brand Flaxta has drawn on a trifecta of the most innovative Swedish technology companies to create its safest, smartest helmet yet. Introduced in Europe this winter and coming to the U.S. market in 2024, the Deep Space Alpha Mips features twICEme technology. Based on near-field communication, the system provides instant access to uploaded safety information so first responders can take speedy action. If you’re caught in a hairy situation, all you have to do is tap your smartphone and scan the twICEme symbol on your helmet to access details such as coordinates and your medical profile. The helmet’s integrated RECCO reflector also increases your searchability to rescuers.
MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology literally gives you peace of mind when charging hard in the backcountry. Designed to reduce the rotational forces that can be transmitted to the brain in a crash, it works by adding a low-friction layer between the helmet and the head, which allows the helmet to rotate slightly around the head during an impact. The brand hasn’t sacrificed any of its signature comforts to add new safety features. The unique hybrid shell construction, combining an in-mold technology with a sturdy ABS shell, delivers durability and stability while remaining lightweight. And the FoamFit liner is based on a memory foam that adapts to the shape of the head. Adjustable ventilation, combined with integrated Primaloft Gold insulation for added warmth on colder days means you’re never too hot or cold. MSRP: $250
BOA Alpine Fit System
If there’s one thing skiers envy about snowboarders, it’s the unrivaled comfort and fit of their boots. Traditional buckles on alpine boots have come a long way since the days of laces, but even the most innovative buckle designs can still cause painful hot spots if overtightened even just the slightest bit. After more than five years of research and
50,000-plus hours of athlete performance and durability testing, BOA has adapted its game-changing fit system used in snowboard boots, cycling shoes, and even running sneakers for alpine skis.
Set to debut this fall with brand partners K2, Atomic, Salomon, and Fischer, the new BOA Alpine technology uses a four-point tightening system that replaces the need for forefoot buckles that lock down on a single point atop the foot. The BOA system’s stainless steel, single-wire laces squeeze around your foot evenly, minimizing downward pressure. It not only results in more comfort, but also better performance.
“Providing multidirectional micro-adjustability optimizes the fit of the shell, uniformly wrapping the mid-foot for better heel hold resulting in more confident turn initiation and higher force transfer from the boot to the rest of the ski for ultimate edge-to-edge control,” says Dave Dickensheets, Vice President of Product Development at BOA Technology.
Dickensheets says the system’s H+i1 dial platform was created specifically with elite athletes in mind, designed to handle the high forces and extreme conditions encountered in alpine skiing. More than 50 field testers put the product through its paces on-piste and in backcountry environments over two seasons to ensure it can hold up in the toughest conditions. According to Dickensheets, the new system can hold 440 pounds of weight and can release from the boot upon extreme impact and effortlessly re-attach to continue skiing. K2 is calling it the biggest advancement in skiing in the past 60 years.
Mammut Alugator Ultra Snow Shovel
For years, Mammut has paved the way producing the lightest, yet strongest avalanche safety gear on the market. In Winter 2023/2024, will raise the bar yet again debuting one of the lightest and the only UIAA certified, aerospace grade 7075 aluminum avalanche shovels on the market. Weighing just 395 grams (less than a can of soda), it is the first shovel of its kind with welded construction and a blade thickness of just 1mm. “With the first line of UIAA certified shovels, Mammut sets a new standard for quality safety products,” says Doug Workman, Mammut’s Avalanche Safety Brand Ambassador. “Always striving to cut weight without sacrificing performance, the new Alugator Ultra continues to push the boundaries of lightweight gear without compromising strength or safety.”
Like all of Mammut’s avi shovels, it’s designed specifically to cut through avalanche debris and has a straight blade back perfect for cutting straight snow profiles. When someone is buried, every second counts. A telescopic shaft allows for fast assembly and the symmetrical T-grip provides optimum transfer of energy when shoveling snow. Measuring just 55 cm when fully collapsed, it easily fits into a small backpack, so you never have an excuse to enter the backcountry without it. MSRP: $120