What’s in Her Pack: Three local pros share the gear they never ski without.
By Krista Crabtree
I grew up spending every winter weekend on the slopes. New England skiers are a tough bunch, subjected to impenetrable blue ice, rain in January or tree-wrecking ice storms, but Colorado weather can be just as volatile. As a kid, the best part of my ski day would be when my dad pulled the Rolo caramel and chocolate candy out of his fanny pack. He always knew that a tasty, sugary treat could salvage the ski day. Avid skiers all have tricks of the trade to help deal with issues that come up in mountain environments and the savvy skier keeps them on-hand at all times.
Nederland is home to many talented and highly trained ski professionals, including guide and avalanche educator, Eryka Thorley, and alpine researcher, Jen Morse. Each have a number of favorite gear pieces for the backcountry or high-alpine terrain. Though I enjoy time in the backcountry, I log a lot of days inbounds. Currently, I’m an EMSC U14 ski coach, head coach for the Nederland Middle Level Alpine Team, director of the Eldora Women’s Program and organizer of women’s ski weekends such as the Silverton Big Mountain Betty Bash and the Elan Crested Butte Big Mountain Women’s Weekend. I’m constantly driving to resorts and booting up in different base areas—or out of my car. My ski bag is typically packed the night before, with the exception of my boots, which sit under the boot dryer.
Here’s a look at the resort-oriented gear I never leave home without:
- When I travel, I bring my portable boot dryers. Each element is about the size of a Samsung Galaxy W cell phone and packable for big ski trips. This plug-in dryer unit keeps moisture from building up in my ski boots and therefore keeps my feet warmer on the slopes.
- I always have a Skida hat, which doubles as a helmet liner for cold days or an après-ski accessory to hide my helmet head. My matching Skida neckwarmer has an easy-to-wash, poly-blend exterior and Polartec micro-fleece lining.
- Maybe it’s from too many sub-zero days on the slopes, but I constantly battle with cold fingers. I have three pairs of gloves/mittens for various temperatures: When I’m coaching and setting courses, I use the durable Flylow Ridge Glove. When I’m teaching or coaching in cold temps, I like the Black Diamond Spark Mitt, sometimes paired with a thin glove liner. For burly days, I pull out the uber-insulated, Gore-Tex Black Diamond Mercury Mitt.
- Alpine boots add weight to a ski bag, so I like to have extra layers that are as lightweight as possible. I often use my Patagonia Nano Puff Vest as an extra core-warming layer. If temps plummet further, I pull out the Patagonia Down Sweater. I never hesitate to double down on the down.
- While I try not to eat Rolos anymore, I like to carry gorp or granola with nuts and dark chocolate. It’s not fun to get hangry on the chairlift with a bunch of kids or clients. It’s helpful to munch on this in the late morning when breakfast wears off and the snow is too good to stop for an early lunch.
Eryka Thorley has played in the snow all her life. She has been a ski patroller for 14 seasons and an avalanche course instructor for the last 6. Currently she teaches all-women courses for Backcountry Babes and Colorado Mountain School. She has a background in mountain and river guiding, including national and international trips. While not on snow, Eryka designs and sells hiking trips in the Alps for Alpine Hikers. In her off time, Eryka loves getting out to the quieter places. Since she has a three-year-old daughter named Wynter, she takes advantage of whatever time she has—whether it’s a dawn patrol in her neighborhood or heading out the backcountry gate at a ski resort. She’s on track to becoming an AMGA-certified ski guide, currently building her resume to guide steeper terrain. She’s doing her professional Level II Avalanche certification, which is a new course through AAA (American Avalanche Association) and will be held this spring, in Wolf Creek.
“What I always have and what I always want are different, but I always have the basics,” says Eryka. Here’s a peak inside her pack:
- Having a ski-specific backpack helps. It has a separate compartment for your rescue gear. I have a 40-L Osprey ABS pack. It’s bigger than most people need, but I often end of putting a lot in there. My pack is also a women’s-specific pack, which means that the shoulder straps fit a women’s torso better.
- I never leave home without a beacon, probe and shovel. I make sure they are all certified by ICAR (International Center for Avalanche Rescue).
- I always have a big puffy. It’s my happy place. If something happens, like if it gets super cold or someone gets hurt, you can throw it over yourself or another person. It’s a little slice of heaven in the backcountry.
- I always have a Buff. I bummed when I don’t have one. It makes me more comfortable. Whether it’s windy, like at Eldora, or super sunny, I feel more protected.
- Depending on where you are, you need some form of communication. The BCA Link radios are great. They’re accessible, not too expensive and you can hand them out to your friends or partners. You can also link up to others in the area if you need help. The Garmin inReach is like a Spot, but not just for search and rescue. You pay for a subscription and can text messages and let people know you’re fine or late, or that there’s a problem.
- As a guide, I always bring a repair kit, specific for my gear. I also bring hand warmers, just in case. I carry a rescue sled, which actually fits in my pack and is the size of a water bottle. I always have a first aid kit to stop bleeding or splint an injury.
- I always have granola or something high calorie and high fat that’s easy to eat. Leftover pizza is the best. Camelbaks can be worthless in the cold so always bring a Nalgene or water bottle with a bigger mouth that’s less likely to freeze shut. I try to bring a dark chocolate bar. A thermos is awesome with hot miso soup inside.
Jen Morse spends at least one day a week, year round, at 12,000 feet on Niwot Ridge collecting data—in all kinds of extreme weather. Jen initially moved to Colorado because she loves skiing. She got her EMT cert and joined the Eldora Ski Patrol. Over the next five years of pro patrolling, she finished her undergrad degree in Physical Geography, with an emphasis on Hydrology and Snow Science. Three months after she graduated, she landed her dream job at the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station (it’s part of INSTAAR, which stands for Institute of Artic and Alpine Research). She applied for an entry-level field technician position, which involved skiing up above tree line every day, collecting climate and snow data and digging snow pits. She’s worked her way up and currently she’s the director of the CU Mountain Climate Field Program and Long-term Ecological Research (LTER). On days off, she likes to get out around the Ned backcountry, like Moffat Tunnel or Caribou, with her husband, or go to the beginner slopes with her 4-½-year-old son, Oren. She’s also volunteering her time to help with Snow School, which gets 5th graders out on snowshoes to learn about winter ecology and why snow is important. It’s part of the Winter Wildlands Alliance, which Jen helped establish locally in collaboration with Wild Bear.
“I feel really lucky to have my job,” says Jen. “When I’m above treeline, I sometimes look like a snow ninja, but the gear works.” When Jen heads out to the high country, here’s what she brings along:
- I like to have a Leatherman or some kinds of multi tool. I’ve often had to deal with broken instruments (like snow depth sensors, solar radiation and basic meteorology instruments), and I can do a hasty fix with a Leatherman and some electrical tape.
- I couldn’t do my job without a neoprene facemask. When you get above treeline on the ridge, the wind is often 50-60 mph and it’s hard to breath. A Buff would ice up and fog up your goggles, but neoprene doesn’t freeze.
- I usually have a cell phone, but I also have a spot beacon. If I’m somewhere where I don’t have cell reception and I get hurt, I have a way to communicate. At work, we often split up to do work or we’re in a spot with no cell reception, so the personal locating beacon sends a signal via satellite with my GPS coordinates. It basically sends an SOS.
- Depending on temps, along with a puffy jacket, I bring puffy pants. They’re synthetic from Black Diamond. They’re so warm. I also make sure that I have a backup pair of mittens or gloves and hand warmers.
- I always have a headlamp because you never know what could happen. It’s really hard in the dark if you don’t have a light. For work, I carry a Black Diamond emergency bivy, which is super lightweight just in case I have to spend the night. Luckily I’ve never had to use it.
- I always have some hot, sweet chai or green tea and usually soup as well. I also have bars, and currently I like bars from a company out of Jackson Hole called Kate’s Real Food. I like the Handle Bar, the Tram Bar and the Grizzly Bar. I eat a little amount of food often so that I don’t crash.