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Archive for January, 2012

Why Kuhl is so Cool

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The Kuhl Spy Jacket in its native mountain environment.

Walk into Tahoe Mountain Sports on any given day, and odds are one of us is wearing Kuhl clothing – if not all of us. Every guy here owns at least one pair of the Kuhl Rydr pant – and it turns out, that’s what Kuhl was aiming for.

While we like to geek out on all the latest and greatest technical outwear for the days we’re out in the mountains, Kuhl, started by folks with the same passions, set out to make clothing for the rest of our lives.

“Even the best climbers or skiers still spend more time in town then on the summit,” said Kevin Boyle, one of the founders and lead designer at Kuhl at a recent interview with TMS at Outdoor Retailer.

Boyle, an avid skier, his brother Jay, along with John “Alf” Engwall and world-renowned climber Conrad Anker started off together with the Alf hat in 1983, which evolved into the Kuhl clothing brand we know today.

“We want to make the best pants in the world,” Boyle said.

And at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we think they may just be the best pants in the world.

What makes them so great? It boils down to comfort, fit, functionality, durability and style, all blended into one. Here’s a video of Boyle walking us through all that goes into a pair of Kuhl Pants:

“My job is to travel the world and find people who are passionate about making great fabrics. We work with the actual weavers and mills, so we’re not using the same fabrics everybody else has,” Boyle said.

The fabrics have to be felt to be believed, from sturdy yet soft canvas used in pants and jackets like the Kuhl Burr to Alfpaca and merino wool fleeces that even the most austere mountain man wouldn’t be embarrassed to call luxurious.

And the attention to detail, from complex patterns used to create an ergonomic fit to Italian snaps that don’t twist and dig into your stomach and even high-end fabrics used for the pockets all come together to make Kuhl Clothing something special.

You’ve got to try it on – once you do, you’ll want to wear it everyday – and they’re tough enough that you can for years to come.

“We’re not going to sit still,” Boyle said. “Even though we’ve been successful we’re haven’t created the product yet that will define our brand, we’re still striving to be better and better.”


Check out our Kuhl Clothing section at Tahoe Mountain Sports and find out for yourself what makes Kuhl some of the best outdoor clothing around.

Lei Out: Beach ultimate frisbee in Santa Monica

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Doug from my team, *UMP, takes flight. Photo by Alexander Yuen of Sideline Photography

WHO: Lis and friends

WHAT: Lei Out 2012 ultimate frisbee tournament

WHERE: Santa Monica

WHEN: January 14-15, 2012

GEAR: Chaco Flips, Lole bikini

For ultimate frisbee players winter may be off-season, but that makes it prime time for some relaxed action at the annual Lei Out tournament. Held over MLK weekend each January, it’s the perfect warm escape for Tahoe and Reno players, who rallied down south to play on four different teams. Me and two of my Tahoe friends played on a University of Rochester alum team, which had members flying and driving in from New York, Portland and San Francisco. We took the long way down, camping in Monterrey and then driving on Highway 1 to take in all the Big Sur beauty.

The tournament is 5-on-5 co-ed, with teams battling it out barefoot on the sand. As the name implies, there are tons of layouts at this tournament (exhibit A: see Alexander Yuen’s photo above). So fun to watch, and throw yourself around on the sand! This year, there were 100+ teams, 81 fields and 4 parties spanning 3 nights. Ahh!

After our first day of play (3-1), my team ended up in the C bracket, pretty alright considering the brackets went down to K. We were slow to start on Sunday, and lost our advancing game by 1 point. All in all, we went 5-2 for the weekend, with both our losses only 1 or 2 points away from a win. But, as this photo of us Tahoe girls show, where we really won was at the party.

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or hike, bike, surf, ultimate frisbee play) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

Outdoor Retailer Winter 2012 Recap

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The TMS crew is back at Lake Tahoe, fresh off a few days at Outdoor Retailer Winter 2012 in Utah, and we saw a whole lot of great stuff, from ultra-techy gear to down-to-earth mountain lifestyle goods.

Dave started off at Demo Day at Solitude, testing our Salomon Rocker 2 powder skis, the Volkl Nunutak backcountry rockered skis, Garmont Cosmos alpine touring boots and Moment Bibby Pros – he was really impressed so don’t be surprised to see some additions to our ski lineup next year!

Thursday and Friday it was on to the show to check out the latest and greatest coming next winter.

Mountain Hardwear continues to turn out some of the most impressive outwear whether you’re mountaineering, backcountry skiing or lapping the resort, continuing with their super-breathable waterproof Dry.Q fabric.

A new Suunto GPS enabled watch topped the tech list, along with Smith goggles that have a built-in Bluetooth heads-up display! Look for more on those two soon!

All the techy stuff is great when you’re out in the woods or on top of the mountain, but what Kuhl does best is cover you the rest of the time. Here’s a casual styled soft shell that’ll perform in foul weather but also look good at work and around town. There’s a reason why on any given day you walk into Tahoe Mountain Sports you’ll see every employee wearing Kuhl pants – look for another upcoming blog post on why Kuhl is so cool.

One of our favorite new camping companies is Klymit – with their ultralight X-framed sleeping pads and Cush pillows. What’s coming up next? A super-comfy sleeping pad (above) that comes in at an unbeatable price (talking $60 right now), and some crazy waterproof breathable jackets (teaser: one changes textures when wet, and the other purportedly breathes 25 times better than eVent!) Look for more on Klymit on this blog soon.


















Deuter Backpacks continue to come out with some of the best designs around. On the left, the new Deuter Guide Lite series slots in between the big and beefy Guide series and the lighter Speed Lite series for backcountry skiing, fast-and-lite mountaineering and climbing. On the right, the Cruise series get’s a dedicated front pocket (white zipper) for avalanche gear.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg: we’ve got dozens more photos on our Facebook Page, and we’ll be doing more in-depth overviews of some new gear on this blog, so stay tuned!

Backcountry Ski Showdown: K2 Coomback vs. Black Diamond Drift vs. Dynafit Stoke

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

The 100 mm-ish underfoot lightweight backcountry ski is quickly becoming the go-to quiver of one for many backcountry skiers. They hit a sweet spot between float in powder, edging in the steep and variable, and light weight for the skin track up. Go skinnier for a mountaineering stick and powder becomes tougher, go fatter for float and edging gets trickier and the uphill gets harder.

Three of the best in this category are the K2 Coomback, the Black Diamond Drift and the Dynafit Stoke. Each is a variation on the formula: 100-ish waist, some camber underfoot, lightweight construction and some early-rise or rocker in the tip – so you can’t really go wrong with any, but the subtle differences might help you pick the perfect one for you.

K2 Coomback
First off, the K2 Coomback – a classic favorite in the backcountry dating back to its origins with legendary backcountry skier Doug Coombs. K2 has put this ski through an incremental evolution over the years, never totally overhauling it. Flat tails for anchor building, skin attachment holes at tip and tail, and dependable performance have been hallmarks of this ski for some time.
On top of last year’s additional tip rocker and a hydrophobic top sheet that aims to keep your skis lighter by carrying less snow on top, this year K2 adds a “carbon web” they claim adds more responsiveness without weight penalty.
Here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we see the Coomback as a dependable workhorse we’d happily ski in-bounds and out.
“Although it isn’t the lightest in the group, it will stand up better against your day-to-day abuse at the resort,” said our Hardgoods Manager, Kevin. “It has quite a bit of rocker in the tip, which makes it a very easy ski to get used to.”
He thought the ski had good edge hold in firmer conditions after skiing with both Fritschie Freeride bindings and 22 Designs Axl telemark bindings.
TMS owner Dave also gave the Coomback the best all-around award.
“The Coomback is easier to ski, a bit damper and tends to absorb the crud more due to its softness,” Dave said. “I recommend the Coomback as a 1 quiver ski for anybody spending 50 percent of their time in the backcountry and 50 percent in the resort.”

Weight: 3600 g per pair (174 length)
Dimensions: 134/102/121
Turning radius: 22m (174 length)
Construction: Triaxial Braided, Cap, Fir/Aspen

Black Diamond Drift
The Black Diamond Drift was a new ski for the well-known mountain sports company last year, and carried forward into the 2011/12 season. We think Black Diamond nailed it. A 3D CNC’d paulownia wood core with carbon fiber reinforcements keeps this ski ultralight without making it torsionally flexible. It’s a soft ski, so it’s going to flow through soft snow beautifully, but get bounced around in harder conditions.
Like the K2s, these have flat tails, and have a metal notch for the climbing skin clip.
“These skis preform like a dream in powder. I’ve had them on groomers at the resort a few times, and while they’re not meant for that, they did the job” Dave said. “This ski is better suited to somebody who spends 80 percent (or more) of their time in the backcountry. Otherwise, it is a 2 quiver ski with this one being a backcountry-specific tool and then a second pair of skis as your big powder slaying, hard charging resort ski like the Zealot or Amperage.”

Whereas the heavier Coombacks were damp and didn’t get tossed around in crud, the lighter Drifts tended to flutter more. Still, with sharp edges, Dave was impressed with edge hold in hard conditions in the backcountry.
“I thought they would be more like noodles and not hold an edge very well, but I admit, I was wrong,” Dave said in an earlier review.
He also said the Drift was the quickest to turn (the shortest turning radius of the group). In summary, this is a backcountry specialist that’s quick, turny and playful in soft snow conditions, and superlight for the hike up.

Weight: 3050 g per pair (176 length)
Dimensions: 136/100/122
Turning radius: 21m (176 length)
Construction: 3D CNC paulownia wood core, carbon fiber reinforcements, Formula One Tech, Torsion Box, Racing Edge

Dynafit Stoke
Dynafit went in a different direction with the popular Stoke ski, developed in partnership with Greg Hill, who climbed and skied 2 million vertical feet in one year. They blended a wider powder ski with the design of their skinnier ski-mountaineering focused sticks that have made them famous, making for a stiffer ski with surprising edgehold in variable conditions, while staying ultralight (only very slightly heavier than the Drift).
Like K2, Dynafit has notches in the tip and tail that work with their proprietary skins and construction is similar to the other two, combining light wood, fiberglass and carbon fiber. Unlike the other two, it uses traditional sidewall construction, instead of cap, and it ends up being the stiffest of the three skis. That mean’s it’s less forgiving and more aggressive, but not punishingly so. It demands technique, so this one wouldn’t be the best for beginners. But what you get from that stiffness is unflappable performance in variable snow and serious edge hold when the snow is hard – perfect for that icy couloir that never saw the sun. If you’ve got the legs and technique, this ski gives you the width and early rise tip for serious powder skiing, along with the edge hold for less than ideal conditions you sometimes encounter out of bounds.
Another difference is the slightly kicked-up tail, it doesn’t seem to be enough of an upturn to make it hard to plunge into the snow, but if your side-slipping back and forth down the neck of a couloir, it’ll help keep the tails from digging in.
The least sidecut in the group also adds to tenacious edge hold but takes more work to swing the skis around on the way down.
“I found myself buttering these skis around more than carving when I needed to turn quickly – once I figured that out, the low swing-weight made these pretty responsive,” said TMS Web Editor Greyson. “The lesser sidecut also made them less hooky in variable snow, and the most confidence inspiring while side-hilling on the way up. If you think of the Drift as a playful ski, the Stoke is more business-like.”

Weight: 3100 g per pair (173 length)
Dimensions: 129/105/119
Turning Radius: 34.5/20.1m (173 length)
Construction: Isocore paulownia ultralight wood with stringers in beech and bamboo with biaxial prepreg, fiberglass and carbon reinforcement

The Bottom Line:
Like we said, you can’t go wrong picking any of these three skis for a great all-around backcountry ski. They blend aspects of more traditional backcountry skis with a powder ski in their own ways, making them super-versatile. That being said, we’ll line it up this way: We’d say the K2 Coomback is the ski that’s going to do the most for most skiers – a jack of all trades, master of none. The Black Diamond Drift becomes more specialized as a soft-snow surfer for the backcountry committed. And the Dynafit Stoke is a serious mountain ski that can take serious skiers over the widest variety of terrain.

Black Diamond Drift
Black Diamond Drift
MSRP: $699.00
K2 Coomback
K2 Coomback
MSRP: $649.95
Dynafit Stoke
Dynafit Stoke
MSRP: $799.95

Tahoe Bikini Chicks interviewed: Yosemite ice skating at its finest

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Tahoe isn’t that big of a town, so when we saw some of our resident action heroes plastered on a SuperTopo forum for ice skating on Tenaya Lake in January, IN BIKINIS, we called them right on up for an interview. Check out the original SuperTopo bikini ice skating post to see all the banter.

Who are the Tahoe Bikini Chicks?

We are local Tahoe ladies who take advantage of whatever the day may bring. If it’s snowing, you’ll find us skiing the deep at Squaw or skinning into the Sierra backcountry. If it’s a cool, crisp, fall day, you’ll find us climbing at Donner Summit or Lover’s leap. If the air is warm and the sun is shining, look for us on an East Shore beach, riding our road bikes up Barker Pass, mountain biking above Tahoe City, or backpacking into Desolation Wilderness. We are ladies who love to smile and love an adventure. And we always have our bikinis on hand for a hot spring, an alpine lake, or recently, ice skating.

What were you ladies doing in the valley that day?

It was the first week of January. We had been skiing Red Dog, Squaw Creek, and Roundhouse for six weeks. Don’t get me wrong — we were stoked to ski on what man could make. But like most Tahoe-ites, after lapping the same three groomers for days, and no forecasted blizzard in sight, we were getting bored and needed to change it up.

If you have lemons, you might as well make lemonade, right? It is so rare for Tioga Pass to open in January, so we decided on a road trip to Yosemite. We left after work and spent our first night camping next to Buckeye Hot Springs in Bridgeport. After spending the morning in the hot springs, we packed the car and drove up Tioga Pass.

It was a beautiful, clear, 50-degree day. Driving up, we eyed the backcountry lines that we wished we could ski. But instead of skis, we packed bikinis on this trip.

When we drove up to Tenaya Lake, we pulled over like everyone else. Kids, dogs, hockey players, lovers, families, friends, athletes, first-timers — everyone was skating on the lake. The four of us had one pair of skates to share — we scoured the thrift stores before the trip, but the word is out on backcountry ice skating and the inventory is scarce — so we took turns gliding out to the middle of the frozen lake.

It was Elan’s idea to put our bikinis on. She laced up her skates, and immediately wanted to put her bikini on.


Why not? Next thing we know, all of us are ice skating in our bikinis.

It was a defiant strike against winter. If Father Snow won’t give us the cold stuff, then we will wear our bikinis in January. On the ice!

I hear bikini ice-skating was just part of the fun that included extreme sunbathing. Tell us what else you did on your trip.

Bikinis became the theme of the rest of our trip. We drove into the valley after ice skating on Tenaya, and set up camp in Camp 4. We were all used to Yosemite being the zoo it is in the warmer months, so it was bizarre to be in the valley without the crowds. There were a few other campers in Camp 4, but not nearly as packed in as it is in “rock-tober.”

Tahoe being Tahoe, we still ran into friends in the campground. He’s the one who brought up the bikinis — “Did you see the bikini ice skaters on”

Wait a second! Our ten seconds of fame — there it was in all its glory. One of our many fans had uploaded a photo he took of us ice skating in our bikinis to the biggest climber’s forum in the U.S. We had to keep the bikinis going.

The next day we decided to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, which was a small trickle free-falling 2,400 feet. When you reach the top, there’s this exposed outlook that sits right over the mouth of the waterfall.

Being the Tahoe girls that we are, we dropped our packs, put our bikinis on, and climbed out to the edge of the cliff for, as we call it, extreme sunbathing.

The next day, Elan, our fearless bikini leader, decided to take it another step further and climbed a 5’9 finger crack on Swan Slabs next to Camp 4 in her bikini. She won the award for most action in her swimsuit.

What other sports have you done in a bikini?

Skiing! It is crazy, but we had more snow on the Fourth of July than we did on January 4. To celebrate the holiday, and my birthday on July 2, I skied in my red bikini down the Palisades.

And of course, we all live in our bikinis in the summertime — river rafting, hiking, biking, you name it.

What was the best pick-up line you heard that week?

We didn’t really hear any pick-up lines — mostly just received high fives. But the photo that was uploaded to SuperTopo got a lot of comments. My favorite was “The Real Housewives of Bishop on the ice?” Classic.

[editor’s note: Our favorite SuperTopo comment? Tahoe Bikini Chick’s response to F10.]

What’s up next for your bikini?

We joked about putting together a calendar. But we are serious, too. The next shot we want to take — in strike of our non-winter — is a photo of a lost bikinied, backcountry skier who is marooned on a desolate, snowless, sunny East Shore beach, wandering aimlessly towards the lake. Any photographers out there who want to support Tahoe Bikini Chicks?

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or hike, bike, surf, Tenaya Lake bikini ice skate) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

Lole Bahamas Triangle Top
Lole Bahamas Triangle Top
MSRP: $23.97
Oakley X-Back Bikini Top
Oakley X-Back Bikini Top
MSRP: $43.95
Carve Maui Halter
Carve Maui Halter
MSRP: $43.95

Marmot Plasma 15 Review, the best three-season down sleeping bag

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Max Neale, Review Editor for Outdoor Gear Lab, reviews the Marmot Plasma 15 and declares it the best all-purpose down sleeping bag available. Here’s why:

The Plasma 15’s tapered hood area, small hood opening, and sleek vertical baffles.

If sleeping bags were cars the Marmot Plasma 15 would be a Ferrari. With its sleek lines, high quality parts, and fine balance of performance and luxury, the Plasma 15 represents the best all-purpose down sleeping bag on the market.

Like a Ferrari, the Plasma is not the cheapest option. Those seeking value might look elsewhere, perhaps at something from REI. Nor is the Plasma the lightest sleeping bag. Go for a custom bag from Feathered Friends if you must save every gram. But for someone seeking a warm, comfortable, high quality and lightweight sleeping bag, the Plasma 15 is the ticket. It’s a bag you’re excited to carry, excited to climb into at the end of a long day, and it’s wonderfully versatile.

The Plasma 15’s combination of performance and comfort is what sets it apart form the competition. Other top quality bags, like the Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Down Hugger #1, which has elasticized seams and stretchy fabric, are very comfortable but come up short on the performance end. That bag weighs a full six ounces more than the Plasma 15, and its elasticized seams have been problematic in the long-term. What the Plasma 15 contains that most others don’t is vertical baffles (tubes of down). Here, Marmot shifted the baffles from horizontal to vertical and added 7-8 Flow Gates (no-see-um mesh netting) to keep the down in place. The result is a wonderfully comfortable bag: the vertical baffles hug your body and move with you throughout the night. The Plasma is a bag you sleep with not inside of.

As for performance, the Plasma 15 rates highly. It’s stuffed with 900-fill goose down, the best and rarest on the planet. Why is 900-fil better than 700-fill? Answer: fill power measures the volume, in cubic inches, of one ounce of down. The higher the number the warmer and lighter the bag. 900 cubic inches is equivalent to the volume of four one-gallon milk jugs. With 17.6 ounces of down, the Plasma 15 is luxuriously lofty. Its shell material, Pertex Quantum, is also top quality and shockingly durable for its weight. These two materials make the bag warm, light and compressible. The Plasma 15 packs down smaller than a cantaloupe.

While down and shell material are the two most important components of a sleeping bag, finer design details also play an important role in a bag’s performance. Here, too, the Plasma excels. Most notable are its expansive foot box and ultra comfortable hood area. The Plasma has a full down collar that wraps around your neck and seals out cold air. This closes with two snaps (which are more reliable than velcro) and cinches tight around your neck with an elasticized drawcord. Down collars are crucial for when temperatures drop below freezing. The Plasma’s collar, which is both comfortable and effective, makes the bag viable down into the teens and below if used with insulated clothing. Another good thing about the hood: it has a tapered shape with a small opening that only needs to be cinched when the temperatures drop. Bonus: a small tube of down buffers the drawcord from your face. The Plasma has one of the few hoods that’s truly comfortable when the neck baffle and hood cords are fully cinched.

The Plasma 15’s comfortable hood area: note the draft collar that closes with snaps (left) and overstuffed pillow.

And for versatility, the Plasma’s generous fit accommodates a wide array of body types. Both men and women will find the bag to be a good fit. Its full-length zipper also makes it as functional on the floor of a friend’s house as at 14,000 ft. This is a critical point. Most ultralight bags have short, quarter-length zippers that limit where and when you they can be used. And other slightly lighter bags skip the draft collar, which makes them less good for colder weather. An example of such a bag is the Sierra Designs Cloud 15 ($500, 28 oz), which also has vertical baffles, is two ounces lighter, but lacks a draft collar (which makes it less warm) and has a short zipper that can make it too hot for the summer. The Plasma 15 is cheaper, warmer, and more versatile.

There are two potential drawbacks to the Plasma 15. First, vertical baffles limit its versatility because the down is fixed in place. (Continuous horizontal baffles allow down to be moved from the top to bottom of the bag, which—if attentively managed—increases a bag’s performance.) Second, the Plasma 15 isn’t the lightest sleeping bag out there. If you’re going ultra fast and light, where every gram counts, a custom bag or quilt style bag will save a few ounces. (The Katabatic Gear Sawatch is an option.) These drawbacks aside, the Plasma 15 is the best all-purpose bag available. It’s warm, comfortable, and lightweight. If you’re looking for one sleeping bag to do it all, the Plasma 15 is the ticket.

For clothing from Marmot, and other Marmot sleeping bags, browse our shop’s selection.

New mobile site for smartphones and tablets

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Have you seen our new look yet? Tahoe Mountain Sports has gone mobile, launching a new e-commerce site for iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and tablets on November 15, 2011. And since then, our mobile visits have increased 113%!

As recently reported by Internet Retailer, mobile commerce is an increasingly important factor in web retailing, and over the 2011 holiday season, retailers saw significant increases in mobile traffic and sales. IBM, reported that 14.4% of its Christmas Day sales were made on a mobile device, up from only 5.3% a year ago. We’ve seen similar statistics. The month before we launched our mobile site about 9% of our visitors were browsing on mobile devices. Since the launch, the ratio of mobile users versus desktop users has been climbing about 1% each month. Today there are 14% mobile users, versus 86% desktop users.

Check out the site to see the ease of buying for yourself. The look is sleek and lightweight so pages download quickly even when your cell signal is weak. Gear, clothing and footwear are just a finger’s tap away, so when you’re shivering on the chairlift, wishing you had that extra layer, or on the road, remembering what you forgot to pack, you can order right from your phone so your next day on the hill is even better, or your package is waiting at your next destination.

We worked with CommerceV3 to expand our web presence into the rapidly-growing world of mobile devices, from iPhones and Androids to tablets. And we’re proud to be among the first outdoor retailers in the Tahoe area to launch a mobile website.

“Our statistics since the launch really show that simply more and more people are using tablet and web-enabled mobile devices and that it’s a global trend,” said TMS owner Dave Polivy. “We try to keep up with all trends whether they be the coolest colors of the new jackets at the ski hill, the lightest weight sleeping pads on the market, or the hand-held technology that people are using to run their lives on.”

Have you bought anything on the Tahoe Mountain Sports mobile site? We’d love to hear about your experience. Comment here, or via any of our other channels: Facebook, Twitter,, online chat from our homepage.

Joshua Tree Climbing, Tahoe Style

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Joshua Tree climbing offers some of the most picturesque rock climbing routes around, and Tahoe City native Julie Brown takes us there in this Adventure of the Week.

WHO: Julie, Ruthi, Robin, and a ton of other awesome friends from Tahoe

WHAT: Rock climbing in the desert

WHERE: Joshua Tree

WHEN: November 12 to 18, 2011

GEAR: Black Diamond Primrose Climbing Harness, climbing chalk, Joshua Tree climbing guidebook

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!

~ Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

When you go to Joshua Tree, know this: The climbers are friendly.

We didn’t realize that we had planned our trip to J-Tree over Veteren’s Day weekend until we drove up to the park gate and the friendly ranger waved our entrance fee for the holiday. Sweet, we thought, until we soon realized that the holiday would also mean full campgrounds.

The campgrounds in J-Tree operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. So if you arrive to a full campground, do what we did: Roll your window down and make some new friends.

I arrived in Joshua Tree with my friend Ruthi, a friend from college who I traveled with across India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia. We came to Joshua Tree with a desire to climb on our own — without a boyfriend or a husband to lead us up routes. On this trip, we would lead our own routes, set our own anchors, and take charge of our own climbing.

It was raining in the desert our first night. The sky was dramatic and dark, accentuating the foreign desert landscape that spread out before us. The rocks in Joshua Tree rise up out of nowhere in an infinitely flat landscape and reminded me of the drip sand castles I made as a kid, when I let wet sand fall from my fingers, layering clumps and lines and wrinkles to form their own creations. The Joshua trees themselves, I thought, are like dancers captured in a single pose for eternity—their branches arcing backwards toward the sun, or gracefully dipping to touch the sand. I heard that Dr. Suess spent a lot of time in Joshua Tree. But I could have told you that without knowing it; the influence this place had on Dr. Suess is obvious.

Hidden Valley Campground is the Camp Four of Joshua Tree. It’s the spot to camp for climbers. Not only can you walk to more climbs than you can imagine, but many of the campsites themselves are at the base of routes. In many Hidden Valley sites, you can belay your climbing partner from your tent. I should also mention that the sites are huge and have plenty of room for an extra tent.

When driving around the campground, Ruthi and I kept our eyes peeled for our future camp-mate. The first guy we met was a huge stoner who spoke in over-exaggerated syllables—DUDE!—and he was camping with his dad. At the second site, I rounded the corner to find two sketchy guys sharpening knives. The third site was just right. A 19-year-old talker named Samuel ran up to our car and invited us to set up camp with him and his two friends, a couple. They were from Malibu, come up to Joshua Tree as much as possible to climb, were leaving the next day, and were more than friendly. So we parked our car and pitched a tent.

The next morning was clear and crisp. The rain had washed away any trace of haze and left in its trace a glorious sunny day. Ruthi and I were determined to lead a couple routes on our own, to challenge ourselves and not just set up top ropes. With something like 7,000 routes, there is no shortage of climbing in Joshua Tree. The challenge is only in narrowing down your options. Following the advice from local shop Nomad Ventures (which has the most inspirational bathroom ever), we scoured the books and found our first route of the trip: The Bong.

Ratings in Joshua Tree are stout. At a bonfire later in the trip, I met a man who was a Joshua Tree lifer, was drinking a bottle of Jim Beam, and kept saying over and over that if you can climb 5’7 in Joshua Tree, you can climb 5’7 anywhere. We were looking at 5’5 for our lead climbs. But for a 5’5, the Bong was still pretty intimidating. It’s a solid crack that juts straight up on the shoulder of a large rock located directly in Hidden Valley Campground. The holds were bomber, and the crux was slightly overhung, but featured two flakes that boosted confidence.

Ruthi led the climb first. She was strong and took her time, making sure her gear was placed well. She climbed through the crux and was above it when she fumbled looking for gear. It’s funny how climbing something so easily on a top rope becomes a different game when you are actually at the top of the rope. I’m not sure what happened, but she lost her footing and let go. Ruthi fell about 15 feet, and a stony ledge caught her before her gear did. She landed on her foot and actually ended up fracturing one of the tiny bones in between her ankle and her toes. But pumped with adrenaline, Ruthi took a few deep breaths, turned around, and sent the climb to the top.

Then it was my turn. I was nervous. But inspired by Ruthi’s performance, I sent my lead, too.

I came to Joshua Tree with one friend. But many, many other friends showed up. I’m not sure how they found us; my cell phone was off the whole week. But one by one, they arrived at our campsite. First it was Robin (who I had planned ahead of time to meet). Then Jake found us. Then we ran into Robin’s friends who she kayaked around Alaska with — and we really hit it off with this group of four, who ended up camping and climbing with us for the rest of the week. Then Ben and Ben from Squaw showed up, pulling the 10-hour drive in an all-nighter. I found Nick and Finley in another campsite around the bend. Then came Dustin, Pete, and company. And then Ashley. I love it when the world feels small.

My trip was only supposed to last about three days. But when the sun set on my last day before my scheduled flight the next morning, I was far from ready to go home. I was just then starting to get comfortable in this new place with endless climbing. So I canceled my flight and stayed for the rest of the week. That was the best decision of the trip.

The next day we climbed Reggie Dome. Our crew set up three ropes, each accessing several routes, and climbed until after dark. This day was far and away the best one. I led another route, the Chief, a 5’5 double crack that was steep, but had bomber gear and reassuring holds. But I also top-roped a couple 5’10s that day and everything in between.

The gamut of climbers run from beginners like me to fearless free soloists who jump on a rock without a rope or a second thought. But the talent is nothing to be intimidated by; it’s something to inspire growth. With every move in Joshua Tree, my energy kept replenishing and I rediscovered why I love climbing. I stepped up to routes that intimidated me, and instead of giving into that anxiety, I focused it on the problem. When I got to the top, my heart was elated and my confidence soaring. This is why I climb. Because I have to breathe through challenges, because everything else in life melts away when you’re focused on making the next move, because when you get to the top you understand why the best things in life are worth working for.

I woke up the earliest on my last day and walked across the desert as the sun rose. It was quiet; I was alone. It felt like this sunrise was meant for me, and me alone. And as I watched electric red streak the sky, then pink, then a pop of yellow, I was at peace. I will definitely be making a fall trip to Joshua Tree an annual event.

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or hike, bike, surf, Joshua Tree climb) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

Black Diamond Primrose Harness
Black Diamond Primrose Harness
MSRP: $59.95
Bison Climbing Chalk
Bison Climbing Chalk
MSRP: $1.49
Joshua Tree Guidebook
Joshua Tree Guidebook
MSRP: $39.95


Mammut Ride R.A.S. Avalanche Airbag Ski Pack Overview

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Avalanche Airbags are the next big step forward in backcountry skiing and snowboarding safety, with dramatic improvements in survival stats buzzing around the internet. Mammut, with the purchase of Snowpulse Technology, entered the segment with a modular design that’s at a great price in an already proven backcountry ski pack, the Mammut Nirvana Ride, to make the Mammut Ride R.A.S.

The SnowPulse Avalanche Airbag system uses compressed dry air, making it safer and easy to refill the cartridge, sold separately here, at a SCUBA shop or paintball gun store.

We deployed the pack, then learned how to repack it and refill the cartridge when our Mammut rep visited Tahoe Mountain Sports in this video:

If you aren’t familiar with the idea of an avalanche airbag ski pack, the airbag adds volume and “float” when deployed, keeping you on the surface of the slide, so you don’t end up buried when the snow settles. That means less chance of asphyxiation, and you’re easier to find by your buddies. The airbag deploying above the head also offers a degree of protection from trauma.

As mentioned before, the pack is based on an already proven design from Mammut, a company who’s name is synonymous with serious mountain fun.

It loses some capacity when you add the airbag and air canister in, but should still be plenty for those who are out for the day – whether skinning or heli-skiing.

Here we have loosely packed a puffy Patagonia jacket, a stuff sack full of gear, a Kleen Kanteen water bottle, and a backcountry skiing guide in below the airbag itself, with plenty of room left. You can also see a separate zippered compartment at the top for small things like keys, cell phone and snacks.

A separate avalanche gear pocket easily swallows an avalanche shovel and probe, and could also fit climbing skins and other random gear you want quickly accessible. This pocket also accesses the adjustment for the diagonal ski carry strap (deployed out of the bottom of the pack), letting you set the length of the strap according to the width of your skis – pretty trick. You can also see helpful emergency instructions and a check list printed on the top of the pocket.

Here we have the goggle pocket with a soft, fuzzy material designed to keep your goggles from scratching when you aren’t wearing them. Also handy for other electronics. Because of the airbag, one thing missing is a helmet carry system – so if you bring a helmet into the backcountry it may have to hang from one of the many compression straps on the way up.

There are six compression straps: two on each side (good for vertical ski carry – but Mammut recommends against A-frame carry because that’s where the airbag needs to deploy) and two across the front that can be used for a vertical snowboard carry or as part of the diagonal ski carry.

Aluminum-stay framing, along with well contoured and padded back, shoulder straps and hipbelt make this very comfortable for carrying the weight of all your gear, transferring the load to your hips and off your shoulders. The pack also has a hydration sleeve in the main compartment for your hydration reservoir.

All the buckles on the shoulder straps and hipbelt are metal so that, along with an included crotch strap, the pack won’t come off you if you’re in an avalanche.

We’re extremely impressed with this avalanche airbag ski pack from Mammut here at Tahoe Mountain Sports. If you have any questions, feel free to ask here, on our Facebook page, or at

Join us at National Winter Trails Day, Jan. 7

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

We’re packing up the Tahoe Mountain Sports truck with lots of goodies for the National Winter Trails Day celebration at Van Sickle Bi-State Park on Tahoe’s South Shore (parking behind Harrah’s). No snow required for a good time this weekend! From 10am to 2pm, Tahoe Rim Trail guides and volunteers and other local wilderness educators are leading guided hikes (snowshoe and/or just hiking shoe, depending on if snow falls this week) and product demos all day. Plus there’s a warming party at nearby Explore Tahoe, the urban trailhead near Heavenly and the casinos, starting at noon with food by Stateline Brewery and Baja Fresh. Snowshoes will be available if you don’t have them, as well as some free hot drinks and snacks.

Stop by our tent to see the latest and greatest MSR snowshoes, water filters, camping stoves, Nemo tents and Deuter packs on display and for demo. We will also have trail maps, sunscreen and other goodies for sale and are hosting a raffle to give away socks, hats and other essentials from our shop.

We had so much fun on National Winter Trails Day last year, so don’t miss out this time around!

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