The boom is coming—and you should run for the hills. Here’s a quick rundown of the sled gear you need to get started.
With winter underway, skiers are now experiencing resorts with tapered winter capacity and new reservation systems, most international ski destinations are off limits and historical surges of people want out of dodge. But you don’t have to be a math savant to add it all up: The backcountry will continue to be hectic this winter.
Already, I’m seeing popular trailheads more closely resembling college frat parties than Thoreau’s wild and free wilderness, with long lines of cars, hordes of first-timers and arrays of brand new touring setups. But part of me believes this is a good thing; more people outside will create a boon for conservation and help keep ski brands afloat.
On the other hand, this wave of new backcountry skiers creates obvious safety risks, trailhead chaos, tracked out zones and the antithesis of what we all want—solitude. Fortunately, there is a solution. Go further into the backcountry with a sled. Don’t have a full day to slog miles and miles into the woods? Maybe it’s finally time to invest in a snowmobile. Modern mountain sleds excel in the alpine, are (reasonably) priced and are easy to tow with most vehicles. In short, sleds are your ticket to freedom this winter.
Sled: The Ski-Doo Summit X is, frankly, best in class. Smooth handling and a high-output two stroke help riders go further and higher into the backcountry. The Summit X is the perfect balance between snappy and stable, powder hungry yet solid on rutted trails, and comfortable for long days out. Also, the new E-TEC engine creates less smoke, smells and emissions, making you enjoy your ride that much more. It hits the do-it-all sweet spot, including a long tunnel suitable for a ski rack.
Rack: Forget strapping skis to your pack. For a safer, easier and more fun experience, pick up a rack before you head out on your next tour. Ski-Doo offers a cheap and easy single rack called the LinQ, which essentially is plug and play. If you’re looking for something more burly or with a larger capacity, Mo Pros offers some of the best options on the market. I’m partial to the Pack-It Bracket.
Helmet & Goggles: Please, for my sake and yours, please stop wearing a climbing helmet while backcountry skiing. They’re designed for small rock fall from above, not for protecting your brain in a big crash. Just get a damn ski helmet. For snowmobile-aided touring, I’d suggest the Obex Spin from POC, because it prioritizes a burly bucket over breathability. The Fovea Clarity Comp goggles fit seamlessly with the Obex, and come with lenses that make your field of view crisper and clearer.
Probe, shovel, beacon: It can’t be understated that snowmobiling in the backcountry is arguably more dangerous than skiing: You’re often cutting deeper into the snowpack and moving across way more potentially hazardous terrain. So, having a good avalanche safety kit is a must. One of the best transceivers on the market is the Barryvox S from Mammut. With a long range, easy to use interface, and streamlined search path it’s worth every penny. I pair it with an Alugator Light Shovel and carbon probe.
Radios: Communication is critical when exploring new places, or really anywhere with potential for high winds or low viz. I rely on a BCA Link 2.0 because it’s an easy to use shoulder mount and has long battery life. After some close calls I consider radios to be an essential piece of gear.
Pack: Airbag packs have shown to reduce deaths of people caught in slides by 50 percent. Sure, they are expensive and a bit heavier than your lightweight touring pack, but the tradeoff to me is a pretty obvious choice. I wear a Pro X 3.0 from Mammut on every touring mission—snowmobiling or not—that has even a remote chance of an avalanche in the forecast. With a removable airbag, I can take this pack on flights and refill the canister when I get to my destination.