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Pack Your Ski Pack Right

clairewsmiley 11 months ago
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Polartec Ambassador Alli Miles is an avid out-of-bounds skier living in Bend, Oregon. She gave us the guide on which gear and Polartec fabrics to pack for your next adventure on the slopes.

Having a great day in the mountains doesn’t always come down to finding the lightest, driest powder, farming a perfectly untracked slope, or hitting that pillow line you’ve been staring at all winter. Sure, those are the moments we rehash over beers, write about on social media, and sometimes talk about for years to come. But the true warriors on the best days are found in your ski pack: the pair of goggles that didn’t fog when it was nuking nonstop, the peanut butter pretzels that fueled one more lap, or the jacket that cut the chill when the winds were ripping on the summit. These unsung heroes of our ski packs quietly make the best days what they are because they keep us comfortable, or as comfortable as possible, in conditions that are often anything but the best.

Broken Top Mountain, Oregon

Those of us who seek adventure in the mountains don’t like to admit it, but there are many days when we hesitate to emerge from the car into single-digit temps, to push above tree line into howling winds, or to do another lap when our gear is saturated. Small luxuries like hand warmers, an extra jacket, or leftover pie can make the difference between just putting another mark on the season tally and discussing the day, lap-by-lap, over pints and a plate of nachos. To help you end more days with a plate of nachos rather than a hot bath and a pile of blankets, I’ll share what’s in my ski pack on dawn patrols, storm days, full day tours, and bluebird powder days.

First, there are some items that I always keep in my pack no matter where or how long I’m touring:

  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Headlamp
  • 2 Voile straps
  • Multi-tool
  • First aid kit
  • Hand warmers and one bar (I like Picky Bars) in my pack, just in case.
Stoke is high.

Dawn Patrols

Dawn patrols usually start around 5am for me. I pack everything the night before, so when the alarm goes off, I take 20 minutes to check the weather up at the mountain, make coffee, get dressed, and get my gear loaded into the car. If everything goes smoothly, my ski partners and I are touring around 6am and have two hours until we need to head down to town for work. Since these tours are usually short and fast, I carry a small pack (less than 30L) and keep the gear to a minimum, including:

  • Thick ski gloves: I tour with liners or running gloves, but I’m a wimp when my hands get cold, so I always have a thick pair in my pack.
  • Dog poop bags: I bring my dog Riggins as often as I can, but we leave no trace.
  • Musher’s Secret: This is also for Riggins, in case he gets snowballs stuck to the fur between his toes.
  • One extra puffy jacket: I usually tour in my Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody since it has breathable mesh side panels made with Polartec® Power Stretch® with Hardface®, but I keep a lightweight down jacket in my pack for transitions and descents.
  • Water bottle: I carry my Hydro Flask 21 oz bottle, since I’m not too worried about weight and I know the water won’t get too cold or freeze.
  • Goggles
Alli and Riggins 

Full Day Tours

On these days, I don’t skimp on snacks or layers. Having a variety of snacks during any kind of endurance activity ensures that I’ll eat frequently and won’t bonk. I’ve also learned that an extra pair of gloves, one more jacket, and a buff can keep me comfortable enough so that I don’t want to quit when there’s still some untracked powder out there. I usually carry a 30L pack filled with:

  • Snow saw and snow study kit for digging pits and assessing the snowpack and avalanche conditions
  • Hot tea (usually in my 21 oz Hydro Flask)
  • Water: I carry a 32 oz Nalgene bottle, which I refill with snow as needed.
  • Extra pair (or two) of glove liners
  • Snacks! I like to carry 2–3 mandarin oranges, almonds, dark chocolate, gummy bears, 2 Picky Bars, peanut butter pretzels, Parmesan or other hard cheese, salami or jerky. On an extra good day, I’ll also have a sandwich (BLT or PB&J).
  • Layers: I’ll carry an extra puffy, and if it’s especially wet or windy, I’ll bring my NeoShell jacket as well.
  • Goggles
  • Skin wax is also a good idea, especially on warm sunny days when the snow gets soft and clumpy. There’s nothing worse than adding 10 lbs of snow to your ultra-light ski setup!
Alli and Riggins brave the storm

Storm Days

Storm days in the Pacific Northwest mean deep snow and wet conditions. They’re often accompanied by high winds, which means that hardshell layers are essential. The best hardshells are the ones that don’t feel like a hardshell — they move, breathe, and stretch while keeping the weather on the outside. I love touring in the Westcomb Fuse LT Hoody, made with Polartec® NeoShell®, because it’s soft, lightweight, waterproof and wind-blocking, yet I can comfortably break trail without overheating.

On storm days, I always carry:

  • Extra hand warmers
  • Extra glove liners (2 pairs)
  • Goggles with a lowlight lens
  • Backup beanie: At the end of a storm day, my beanie is usually pretty soggy. I keep a backup beanie in the car so that I can keep my head warm and dry (and my hair contained) until I get home.
Photo: Aly Nicklas

Bluebird Pow Days

Nothing beats a bluebird powder day in the high alpine. Despite the cold temps, the sun can be intense, especially during an ascent. On cold days, I prefer the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody, made with Polartec® Alpha® insulation in the front to block wind and cold, and Polartec® Power Grid™ in the hood, sleeves and back panel to allow airflow where I need it most during high output. On warmer days, I’ll tour in the Mammut Klamath Half-Zip, made with Polartec® Power Wool™, which blends the breathability and odor-resistance of wool with the durability of synthetics.

Ready in my pack, I’ve got:

  • Trucker hat: It’s breathable and blocks the sun.
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
Photo: Aly Nicklas

While every skier’s needs and touring styles vary, it usually comes down to having the right layers and plenty of snacks. I’m all for shaving ounces when it comes to skis and bindings, but don’t try to convince me to leave the block of Parmesan or my extra puffy behind.

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