Okay, let’s start with the good news. By and large, I have most of the stuff I’m going to need for Tailgate Alaska. You probably do to. Because for the most part, it’s just normal snowboard stuff. In late March and early April temperatures in Thompson Pass are usually not that far below freezing (that’s 32°, or 0° for you foreign types). And if you’re a snowboarder, that’s actually pretty warm. So the jackets, midlayers, and thermals I already have are more than up to the task. Accessories like helmet, goggle, gloves and the like are all pretty much standard issue and nothing special needed there. Boots and bindings are what they are, you should have that already sorted. Board you’ll want something powder-specific, but that’s a topic for a later column.
So that’s it, right? Well, not exactly. There are a few specialty items worth picking up, either to make things a little bit easier or a lot safer. Or both. For the most part they’re easy to find and cost-effective to pick up, so while one of my personal goals on this trip is to keep costs down it’s money well spent to get these items.
This was the first, and probably easiest, thing to get. An alpine harness is basically a lighter, unpadded version of a standard climbing harness. Realistically the only time I’d use it is if I fall in a crevasse and need to be hauled back out again. Which I’m not planning to do, since riding with my limits isn’t likely to include riding over, near, or even close to a crevasse. But if I don’t have one and do somehow find myself needing a lift out, the only way to do it would be to have one of the people who didn’t fall in lowered down on their harness. I’m not trying to put anyone in that kind of danger.
So kicked myself for getting rid of my old climbing gear a few years back. Because if you already have a climbing harness, you’re already set. The basic function of both harnesses is the same, the only real difference is an alpine harness is unpadded, reducing weight and thankfully reducing cost. There will be other minor differences, like alpine harnesses are usually easier to put on over larger mountaineering or ski boots, and climbing harnesses offer more storage options for stuff like chalk bags, cams, etc.
I picked mine up used on eBay. There were lots of options, but I waited for a deal. Might not be the sexiest rack on the mountain, but for $30 shipped I really don’t care. Just had to make sure there wasn’t any damage or fraying on the webbing, and I was good to go.
As I’ve said a few times already, I’m trying to ball on a budget so I expect to have to hike any lines I want to ride in Thompson Pass. I’m okay with that, but I’m not okay with the idea of trying to bootpack in waist-deep powder. That would be sub-optimal. So I knew I needed to get some kind of foot floatation device going. A splitboard would be ideal, but a fresh pair of splitboard bindings aren’t in the Yobeat budget, and I’m trying to minimize the amount of “new” equipment I’m having to deal with out there. Folding climbing skis, which are made by a couple different brands now, were also considered but between cost, weight, and the aforementioned “new equipment” ban, wasn’t an option I was looking to consider at this time. Traditional snowshoes were an option, and something I seriously considered. The free heel would make flat traverses easy, and their ability to keep me on top of the snow would be second to none.
But in the end I went with Verts. They’re non-traditional snowshoes, designed specifically for snowboard boots and to function in the type of terrain that snowboarders find themselves in. The fixed heel makes traditional mountaineering methods like French Technique possible, as well as duck footed or even toe-in. They were recommended by my Alaskan friends as the easiest way to get up steep faces, and who am I to argue with that wisdom. Also, they’re significantly cheaper than traditional snowshoes, and you know that was music to my ears.
Unfortunately, since they arrived at my house Boston hasn’t seen a lick of decent snow. A few flurries here and there, but no real accumulation and no real opportunity for me to test them out. Luckily “walking” is on the very short list of things I’m good at, so after a few laps around my apartment I’m confident I’ll be able to handle myself on real snow.
This stuff literally just arrived today.
I’m willing to cheap out on a lot of stuff, as I’ve said before. But I’m not ready to cheap out on safety. So I bit the bullet and dropped real money on a new avalanche beacon. Not that there aren’t abundant cheaper used options out there. It’s by far the most expensive purchase I’ve made for this trip but for my comfort and my wife’s sanity I decided to go with new. I haven’t had a chance to really work with it yet, and honestly if anyone in the Boston area has a beacon and wants to meet up and practice hit me up.
I also grabbed a shovel and a probe. Because there’s no point in finding them with the transceiver if you can’t get them out again. Strangely the shovel was one item where it didn’t make sense to buy used, almost all options I found were as expensive, if not more expensive, than just buying new. Not sure how the economics work on that one. And once you’re buying the beacon and the shovel new, might as well pick up a new probe as well. All three are pictured here with my beloved Osprey Kode 22, which is a leftover from my shop guy days and not a new purchase for this trip.
I’ll have more to say about these purchases after I get a chance to use them. But it is amusing how the arrival of the box from Backcountry Access made this trip suddenly become very real to me. It wasn’t just a fun idea anymore, but something I’m actually going to be doing.
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