Head of Ski at Glenmore Lodge and IFMGA Mountain Guide Andy Townsend outlines his gear of choice for ski touring in Scotland
“When the Crowded House boys wrote the immortal line: “Four Seasons in One Day” they had no idea they were describing a typical Scottish ski experience, except they got the timeline wrong, more like four season in one hour!
It does neatly underline the principle of sorting out and selecting ski touring kit for Scottish adventures. Whatever you step into, zip up or squash into your rucksack, it will have to cope with whatever the four seasons can throw at you. The gear choice has to be adaptable but more then anything it has to be robust as the Scottish snow and weather takes no prisoners.
The right kit to make your average Scottish day warm and cuddly is out there; you just need to be prepared to either carry a bit more than you would in the Alps, or get really good at suffering while maintaining a smile.
This my rig for the Scottish ski touring gig…”
SKIS: BLACK CROWS SOLIS
Saying the Scottish snow is variable is an understatement. All too often I see clients rocking up with the latest super light skis, They will probably smash me on the way up but they will be fighting their carbon and foam ‘twiglets’ on the way down. The answer is to find a ski that is strong, yet light enough so you won’t curse them as you bumble over bog and peat hag on your way to the ribbon of snow.
The Solis from Black Crows is the answer, it is their specialised steep skiing plank, it has a soft tip yet is stiff enough to hold and edge on anything. The big radius sidecut is perfect for fast short to medium turns, ideal for Scottish gullies and it looks wicked in black. At 100mm underfoot it is the perfect balance between thin enough to travel but wide enough to help you deal with tricky snow.
For a Scottish ski tool this is the ideal width, anything fatter is just weight to lug over the heather.
BINDINGS: MARKER ALPINIST 12
Scotland is not the place for fancy gadgets and you don’t want to trust yourself to a binding with lots of moving parts or plastic components. The Alpinist 12 from Marker is simple, strong and easy use. Its not heavy but it is robust enough to cope with a bit of Scottish abuse. Make sure you choose the model that adequately covers your DIN setting, taking into account your total weight including ski boots and rucksack.
BOOTS: SCARPA MAESTRALE XT
We ask a lot of our boots, we want them to be like a trainer for going up and a race boot for going down. The Scarpa Maestrale XT is for me pretty much both, it is light and stiff.
I am a lightweight skier but I really enjoy having the stiffness comparable to an alpine boot, less effort on the input more output on the ski. The 56° range of movement is enough so you can feel relaxed when you have to boot pack or walk to find snow. In downhill mode it gives so much support that I am able to adapt quickly to the variations in the snow.
HARDSHELL: BLACK CROWS VENTUS JACKET AND PANTS
JACKET £570 PANTS £480
When Black Crows started engineering their ski clothes I was doubtful they would cope with the Scottish ming, but I was so wrong.
The Ventus is a heavyweight Gore-Tex combo and a really nice outfit to wear. The comfy pants are baggy enough so I can layer up underneath and the thigh pockets are really useful for bits and bobs.
The hood on the jacket is massive so you can hide inside when the wind blows. The fleece collar is really snuggly and just like a hug from your Mum.
The outer fabric is burly and resistant to the wear and tear of day in day out Scottish gnar. A longer cut of the jacket makes sure that the damp conditions don’t penetrate your fly zip and keep your underpants dry all day long.
The team at Glenmore Lodge have bashed their jacket and pants around for 2 seasons and they still look good and keep the boys and girls dry. All these features and they come in great colours!
GLOVES: LEVEL OFF PISTE TRIGGER LEATHER
The answer to warm, dry hands is to learn how to do every task without ever taking your gloves off and have lots of spares.
I won’t leave home without a minimum of 3 pairs of gloves, a pair for the up, a pair for the down and another pair for the bonus lap.
I am a big fan of a set of mitts or lobster mitts as my last resort, get off the hill back-up.
HELMET: JULBO PEAK
To helmet or not to helmet that is the question? The choice to take a helmet has to be a personal choice based on education and experience. I am looking forward to trying out the new Peak helmet from Julbo, a dual rated lid with removable ear pads so it can be worn on top of one of my extensive collection of beanies.
GOGGLES: JULBO SKYDOME
Visibility is often a challenge, flat and without a horizon or reference points. So googles that can perform in our humid and windy world are essential.
Julbo’s Skydome google with Reactiv lenses adjust between cat 1 and 3 so easily that you can wear them all day and even at night when skiing with a head torch.
If it is a truly miserable day then two pairs are the answer, keep the spare pair wrapped in a spare buff and you can have a lunchtime change.
NAVIGATION: FATMAP AND VIEWRANGER
Navigation is easy even in a whiteout but you have to be involved from the beginning so have a system that is easy to use with gloves on and doesn’t interfere with your skiing. Small, pocket sized and laminated maps, big zippers on your jacket, a compass on a lanyard are the must have basics. If you want to go hi-tech then add an altimeter and possibly digital mapping.
I have been using Fatmap and Viewranger apps on my phone for a while now and they work really well. Keep your phone in flight mode and tucked in a warm pocket to protect the battery. I also carry a spare phone as it is never a good idea to comprise the battery life of your emergency communication.
GROUP SHELTER: SUMMIT EQUIPMENT
Such a simple piece of kit and essential for surviving the night if you get lost or injured. They’re also easy to bust out the bag and throw over yourself on a wild day when you need a break from the weather and wind chill.
Group shelters are really small and light these days so there really is no excuse. Summit Equipment make some really compact 2, 4 and 6 person shelters which are pocket sized. Throw one in your bag and forget about it till you need it.
Pack: Arva Rescuer 32 Pro
A good ski pack should sit low on the back so the weight works with your hips rather than being top heavy and adding a counter force when turning. It should be big enough to easily swallow your kit but not so big that you are tempted with the extra extras.
This winter I will be using the Arva Recuer 32 Pro. Designed for ski patrollers, the Pro has lots of pockets to organise your nick nacks, perfect for my OCD. It has a separate, oversized rescue pocket that swallows the shovel blade but also skins, jackets and occasionally the rope. Using lots of small waterproof stuff sacks keeps my gear dry, accessible and helps me pack to fill every corner.
OTHER: REPAIR BITS AND BOBS
Things occasionally go wrong, but thankfully the gear we use is really well made and reliable.
Keep your bindings well greased using a lithium based lubricant and fingers crossed you will only have to deal with minor repairs.
I still carry a few tools to make sure I can fix any problem on the hill. A screwdriver with a few different heads is always useful, mostly for adjusting bindings or tightening loose boot buckles. I have also added a few ‘Torx’ bits, as these fittings are becoming more common.
A selection of rubber ski straps are the real ‘get out of jail free card’, not only do they hold your skis together so you don’t look like a punter but they can fix anything. Broken boots, damaged bindings, skins that have run out of glue, all have been fixed quickly with a few ski straps.
So with a little bit of nerdiness and a suitable dose of OCD, it is possible to navigate your way through the complexities of the available ski kit and find just the right Rig for the Gig so that you can zip up your jacket, wipe your googles and still get some cool turns whilst the Scottish weather throws four seasons in one day at you.