Skis, boots and boards: A review of available equipment

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2001

A variety of equipment is available from ski and snowboard shops in Juneau and the Pacific Northwest. Some of the options include:

Skis: Juneau skiers tend to buy wider-body downhill skis better suited for the heavier, wetter snow conditions of the coastal climate, says Ron Fisher of Alpine Hut in Seattle. He recommends K2 Axis X and K2 AK Launchers, Volkl G3 or G4, Volant Power Karve or Chubb, and the Saloman Pilot starting at $299. Rene Requa of World Cup in Girdwood agrees wide body skis are the most common types sold to Juneau customers and he carries all the major brands, including Atomic, Dynastar, Salomon, Volkl, and Line, starting at $499.

Ski boots: Boot preferences vary depending on foot length, width, girth, height, bone structure, level of ability, and other factors - including how it feels. There's no predicting which boot will be best until you try it out, or at least go through some kind of evaluation with someone who knows what they're doing. This can be done over the phone, but it's not as predictable and accurate as being there in person. Cost runs from $150 to $600 adults.

Snowboards: Juneau buyers need to think about the conditions and terrain they're going to ride in, says owner Jake Liska of Boarderline. Juneau has steep, rugged slopes with wetter snow and he recommends a strong board with a good sidecut, like the Nitro Natural, but adds that the best technical equipment doesn't always mean the best technical riding. The higher-rated boards are designed for expert riders. A stiff board with sidecut are good for speed and precision turns, but harder to control. A softer board is more forgiving on turns and bumps - better for a beginning rider who needs the option to slide around and make mistakes.

Boarderline features Nitro, Option, Burton, Gnu, Libtech, and Saloman snowboards. Poseidon Boardsports sells a lot of Burton, K2, Gnu, and Option snowboards. Owner Shane Robinson says the Option Signature is a good solid all-around snowboard for riding in and outside the ski area, with stiffness in the tail, but less so in the front, and a basic sidecut for precision turning. The Gnu Carbon Highback is a softer, medium board with less sidecut and more flexibility, appropriate for beginners or "easy" riders. Top-of-the-line snowboards go from $400 to $500. Lower-end boards start at $150.

Snowboard boots: These range from soft to hard, strap-in to step-in. The worst thing is heel lift and boot manufacturers have come up with several different systems to prevent that. Dual lacing systems, (inner and outer lacing) help keep the heel immobile against the heel cup. The DC Pump uses an internal pump to fill the lining with air for a tighter fit. Step-in bindings, like K2 Clickers and Switch are strapless, with metal interlocking parts on both the boot and binding for attaching the rider to the board. Boot prices begin at $100 and run to $300.

Innerwear: Betsy Fischer at Foggy Mountain says layers are the safest, most comfortable way to deal with Juneau's wet cold climate. "There isn't just one layer, or one jacket that will kept you warm and dry, you need to think in layers of three: a thin inner polyester layer next to your skin for warmth and to wick away moisture; a thicker second insulating layer, usually a pile or fleece; and a waterproof or highly water resistant and windproof outer layer." Foggy Mountain sells Patagonia (Capilene), The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, and Helly Hansen. The Nugget Alaska Outfitters sells Helly Hansen Lifa, a polypropelyne wicking inner layer, and silk long underwear for people who want something lightweight. They also sell Columbia fleece mid-layers.

Outerwear: There are two types of outerwear: shells and insulators. Shells are thin and waterproof, not as warm, but can be worn with layers. Insulators are thicker, warmer, but tend to soak up moisture and lose their warming ability. Juneau snowriders need to buy waterproof, breathable jackets, bibs and pants. Manufacturers like Arc'teryx, Marmot, The North Face, Patagonia, Burton, and Bonfire make some of the highest-rated gear for this climate. Wet outerwear means wet inner wear and this can lead to serious chilling and loss of body temperature, which is not only uncomfortable, but unsafe. Poseidon and Boarderline handle the most technical, up-to-date snowboarding wear. Foggy Mountain also sells the top brands. Nugget Alaskan Outfitters' top-selling brand is Marmot, designed originally for the icefields of Juneau a highly rated, highly tested, upper-line outerwear. Their Columbia Convert snowboarding apparel offers a bit of flash, and Helly Hansen offers a more fit cut.

Women's gear: Snowboarding companies now make women's boards, boots, bindings and outerwear. The boards have a narrower side cut suited to a woman's narrower physique and lighter weight. Boots have a smaller heel cup for a tighter fit, and bindings are shorter, narrower and lighter to fit a woman's smaller foot. Outerwear for women has better sizing with narrower cuts in the legs, waist, and arms. Poseidon recommends the Gnu Christy Barrett pro model board because it was designed by a woman for women, and is softer and lighter. Lady Drake bindings go well with the Northwave Lady Freedom boots, which are not too stiff and not too soft. A setup like this would cost about $700.

Safety gear: Avalanche danger is unpredictable and ever-present and safety equipment is mandatory when leaving the ski area. Bill Glude of the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center recommends a "beacon, probe, shovel, and trained brain." A beacon is a small transceiver/transmitter worn on the body allowing you to be found by searchers if you're buried in an avalanche. The three most popular beacons are made by Tracker, Ortovox and Pieps and run about $300. Buy a newer one with the current international standard frequency and learn how to use it. A probe is an aluminum collapsible pole used to poke the snow for people buried in an avalanche. Good avalanche probes will last a lifetime and cost about $50. Shovels are an essential tool for digging avalanche debris because you can't dig with your hands, skis or snowboard. Buy a good avalanche shovel, not a discount-store brand that can break easily. Cost is about $50.

Helmets: Helmets offer extra protection and confidence through the trees and throughout the ski area. A "full" helmet is made of hard plastic and fits over the head and ears. It's padded with straps under the chin and is rated for strength and durability. A "shorty" has a hard shell over the head, with soft padding around the ears. Helmets have venting systems, padded and nonpadded straps, and come in sizes that fit children through adults. Prices range from $89 to $250.

Accessories: All the ski, snowboard, and outdoor shops in Juneau sell gloves, liners, mittens, socks, hats, wax, goggles and safety gear for winter sporting. They know the equipment that suits the terrain, climate, and tastes of Juneau outdoor enthusiasts. Asking for their help and knowledge is crucial if you're a beginner, and helpful if you're seasoned but just want to know what's new in the world of outdoor winter gear.

Outdoor shops mentioned above include:

Poseidon Boardsports, downtown, 463-5655.

Foggy Mountain Shop, downtown, 586-6780.

Boarderline, Nugget Mall, 790-4782.

Nugget Alaskan Outfitters, Nugget Mall, 789-0956.

Alpine Hut, Seattle, (206) 284-3575.

World Cup, Girdwood, (907) 783-2282.



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