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Archive for March, 2012

Trailspace Editor Shares: Why I bought the Deuter Fox 30 from Tahoe Mountain Sports

Friday, March 30th, 2012

In January I bought my son a new backpack.

As the co-founder and editor of Trailspace, a backcountry gear community for outdoor enthusiasts, I’m well aware that the choices when buying a single piece of outdoor gear can be simultaneously empowering and overwhelming. Which brand? Which model and features? From whom to buy?

With a seemingly infinite number of options, how did I end up buying a Deuter Fox 30 backpack from Tahoe Mountain Sports?

That’s what TMS’s Dave Polivy wanted to know too.

Back in January, I stopped outside the Deuter tent at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow’s Demo Day. A man turned to me. “Are you Alicia, from Trailspace?” he asked. “You bought a pack from me.”

I was impressed. Though Tahoe Mountain Sports advertises on Trailspace, Dave and I had never met or communicated. I’d simply purchased a pack online earlier that month. But Dave recognized me as a customer, and even remembered which pack I’d bought.

“Why’d you choose Tahoe Mountain Sports?” was his next question. Dave is well aware that his customers have choices.

So, here’s how this gear editor successfully navigated from “what to buy?” to pack in-hand:

Knowing Our Needs

“I want to go backpacking with you, Mom.”

I was thrilled when my 7-year-old son said these words, and I mentally began narrowing down our pack options.

He already had several small daypacks, but he needed a bigger pack that could carry his sleeping bag, clothes, and a snack on family backpacking trips. He also needed a pack he could use to haul his ski gear to and from the mountain all winter.

Narrowing Down the Options

On Trailspace, we regularly encourage people to visit local outdoor retailers, like Tahoe Mountain Sports, if they’re so lucky as to have one nearby. Whenever possible, especially if it’s a first-time purchase, try the gear on before buying, especially packs and boots. Unfortunately, our rural Maine location is far from many specialty retailers, which means we often have to go online to find the items that meet our needs.

This time the selection process was sped up significantly because far fewer backpacks are available for kids than adults. I had plenty of options to choose from, but not too many to slow me down. Less was more, in this case.

My son and I considered:

  • Brand: I’ve personally been happy with Deuter and Osprey packs, so we started our search there, but didn’t rule out others.
  • Fit/Size: Though visiting an experienced pack fitter is best, we got out the measuring tape to find my son’s torso length.
  • Features and Use: We looked for a traditional pack, designed for kids, suitable for overnight backpacking and hauling ski gear.
  • Price: All the results were in a similar price range, so this wasn’t a significant part of the decision.
  • Reviews: We read the user reviews of kid packs on Trailspace.
  • Winner! We settled on the Deuter Fox 30 for its technical features (it’s a scaled down pack for younger kids), brand reputation, and good reviews. My son picked orange.

Where to Buy

If we’d visited a local specialty retailer, like Tahoe Mountain Sports, to try on packs, we would have bought the product in-store, supporting the local store and staff. While we buy a lot of gear online, we don’t use specialty outdoor stores as a showroom for online purchases. Not cool.

In our case, Trailspace’s page for the Deuter Fox 30 listed at least seven online outdoor stores under “Where to Buy.” All were selling it for roughly the same price.

So, how did I pick Tahoe Mountain Sports? Well, first of all, they were in the running just for stocking a good product I wanted at a good price.

Then, with all else being equal, I was inclined to pick the smaller guy, especially one with a physical store that is family run. I may not get to visit Tahoe Mountain Sports in person, but I like knowing there are specialty outdoor stores, staffed by experienced outdoorspeople, who help others gear up and get outdoors.

Tahoe Mountain Sports was the winner.

The Result

The order process was smooth. The Deuter pack arrived within days and has served us well so far, and even earned some compliments at our local ski slopes. It will make its backpacking debut in just a few weeks.

And back in January, amid the hoopla of a major tradeshow, Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports, remembered me and my son’s pack from one single online purchase.

It was nice to know that what felt like an anonymous purchase to me had caring and knowledgeable people on the other end. Whether it happens online or in your own local shop, that’s the value of outdoor specialty retailers.

Alicia MacLeay is the editor and co-founder of, an online community for outdoor gear enthusiasts. Founded in 2001, Trailspace and its 13,000 community members share outdoor gear reviews and discuss backcountry gear for hikers, backpackers, climbers, skiers, paddlers, and trail runners.

Pain McShlonkey Classic 2012

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

WHO: Kevin O’Hara

WHAT: Pain McShlonkey Classic 2012

WHEN: March 23–24, 2012

WHERE: Squaw Valley

GEAR: Contour helmet cam, Smith helmet, ABS avalanche airbag pack, K2 snowlerblades

Three years ago, I was working as the manager for a photography company at Squaw Valley. Our office was in a corner of the Olympic House, within good proximity of the best food in the valley. I was leaving the office one evening, when my friend Alan, the proprietor of Northern Lights (the best soup and chili shack on both sides of the Mississippi), asked me, “Did you hear that Shane McConkey died today?” I had not. And honestly, at that time I was only mildly familiar with him. I knew he was a big hucker on skis, and I had read about him in the book “My Favorite Place,” but my familiarity with Shane was unexpectedly about to grow tenfold. I’m only sorry that it didn’t happen while he was still pulling ripcords and slashing huge lines.

News in the valley spreads quicker than in most podunk Midwestern towns. By the time I arrived for work the next day, the mood at the mountain was heavy, and the heft remained until well after Shane’s memorial service a week later. I found myself wondering why he was so important, and being that this was my second winter in Tahoe I knew I had some work to do getting up to speed with my facts. After reading some articles, hearing stories from locals, and watching some more ski flicks, it was pretty apparent who Shane was to the local ski community. He’d molded skiing into what we know it as today—comparable to how Elvis Presley rocked the music world into a new way of playing (and dancing). More importantly, Shane was funny. He hardly took himself seriously. Really, he was only serious about living fully.

Fast forward two years: I’m working here at TMS, I’m a WAY better skier, I feel settled in Tahoe, I know my bartenders as well as my high school buddies, I am fully familiar with GNAR, I have my favorite hot tub poach spots, along with all the other eccentricities of living in a mountain town. I’ve also learned a lot more about not taking myself too seriously. And what do you know, last year I qualified for the Chinese Downhill at the Pain McShlonkey Classic. An event coined from a little stunt Shane pulled with some buddies one night at Squaw. 30 pros and 30 amateurs were to go head to head (actually side by side) from the top of KT-22 to the bottom of Exhibition. The race, was a spectacular display of crashes, costumes, busted egos, cracked skis, and lots of laughs. One guy even ended up with a broken arm. By the end I was panting, bleeding, and grinning from ear to ear.

It was not only the Chinese Downhill that left an impression on me, but also the positive attitudes, the immense camaraderie and ability of everyone involved to let go of the seriousness of skiing. You could actually feel Shane’s influence on the entire event. I was so psyched to be a part of it that I wrote Sherry McConkey a short letter, and gave it to her after the awards, along with a big hug and a “thank you.”

This year I was invited to the spectacular “Moulin Rouge” themed Shane McConkey Legacy Gala, and I was also invited back as a VIP to compete in the Pain McShlonkey. I always assumed it was a once in a lifetime event, and I was stunned to get Sherry’s invitation. At the Gala, I re-introduced myself to her, and asked, “Do you remember me?” She smiled, “Of course I do.” Greeting me with another hug. I asked her why I was invited back. Sherry answered very simply that people who love Shane are what make the event, and that the whole weekend, for her, is about good friends. I am humbled.

What I have left with, after both years at the PMS Classic, is an endless positive feeling and “get after it” attitude that this group of people embraces. Shane had no hesitations with the amazing things he did, and he built an amazing world for himself. Every time, I feel a bit out of it, or down, I put on my Big Truck McConkey hat and I repeat to myself Shane’s line from the movie Claim: “Now ski down there and jump off something for crying out loud!”

So you wanna know the nitty gritty? How the race went down? I’ll leave that to the Contour video and the photos. I can’t wait to totally crush the competition in 2013!

See the TMS Facebook album and Kevin’s recap from last year’s Pain McShlonkey Classic for more photos and videos.

Contour ROAM Helmet Cam
Contour ROAM Helmet Cam
MSRP: $199.95
Smith Holt Helmet
Smith Holt Helmet
MSRP: $74.95

Why Wigwam Socks Rock

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Socks may not be as exciting as the latest skis, the newest backpacks or the latest waterproof breathable shells, but they’re at the core of your comfort and enjoyment on any outdoor activity, from hiking and biking to skiing and snowboarding.

We recently sat down with Margaret Chesebro, director of sales at Wigwam Mills, to talk socks. Turns out, Margaret is in the 4th generation of the family that founded Wigwam, so Wigwam socks don’t just have great tech, they’ve got serious history.

A little history

“My great grandfather Herbert Chesebro founded wigwam, coming from another hosiery business,” Margaret said. “He started out making socks for lumberjacks.”

Her grandfather then took over and had the claim to fame of bringing nylon into performance socks, earning him a place in the Sporting Goods hall of fame, she said.

Margaret’s dad, Bob Jr., is the current CEO and developer of Wigwam’s Ultimax and INGenius designs. Her brother works in Operations.

“Family permeates throughout the company,” she said. “We’ve been making socks for over 100 years, we know what goes into making a good sock.”

Sock performance

But enough about history, let’s talk socks, and what Wigwam is doing to keep your feet happy.

Working directly with yarn manufacturers, Wigwam is able to select the best materials, and avoid flash-in-the-pan trendy materials.

“2-3 years ago the buzz was bamboo because it was supposed to be green, but we chose not to use it because it was such a toxic process to turn the wood into fiber,” Margaret said.

Instead Wigwam has designed a combination of fibers in specific patterns that move moisture from the bottom of the foot (inside the shoe where it won’t evaporate) to the top of the sock (where it can dry quickly). They do that with a combination of hydrophilic and hydrophobic yarns for a push-pull system, she said.

While a lot of people think Merino wool means its from New Zealand, Margaret said Merino is actually a grade and Wigwam sources “Super Merino” mostly from U.S. Ranchers (about 90%).

Super Merino wool has a diameter of 18-18.5 microns, while typical Merino is around 22, she said. Wigwam also twists nylon around Merino fibers in high wear areas for reinforcement and durability.

In the “push-pull” system for moving moisture, Wigwam takes advantage of wool’s absorbing properties to pull, while synthetics wick.

“Merino will hold 30 percent of its weight in moisture before it feels damp,” Margaret said.

All that adds up to socks that keep your feet dryer, more comfortable, and blister free whether you’re running, hiking, biking, skiing – or whatever your adventure.

Check out our full selection of Wigwam Socks at Tahoe Mountain Sports and keep your feet happy!

Getting Waisted: A Battle of Tech Belts for Skiing

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

During our NorCal ski demo day at Alpine Meadows, Kevin and I had a little debate—on belts for skiing. I was high on realized sweatpant dreams, sporting my new Arcade Belt. And Kevin was gloating in his raffle winnings, jabbering on about how his belt can open a beer. Here, we take a closer look at each of our belts. In this battle of the belts, who is the winner? Let us know which belt you think wins in the comments.

In the blue corner, Lis and her new Arcade Little Standard Belt

I am all about less form, more function when it comes to my belts. I hate big, clunky buckles that peek out like an awkward outtie under my shirts and dig into my abdomen when I sit. Arcade (a local Tahoe company) makes my kind of belt because the buckle is low profile, lying flush with the webbing. And the closure clicks open and closed with just one hand. The stretch in the webbing magically transforms any pair of pants into that sweatpants like feel—elastic gently hugging your waist. And god knows I love sweatpants. Still have my high school track pair with my name running vertically down the side. I only wish Arcade would make a women’s specific belt that looks a little less sporty (gold/metal buckle? lower-profile pattern on belt) so I could wear it to classier affairs. Though my belt cannot open a beer like Kevin’s, I leave you with this final punch, Kevin. Can your belt tie up a hostage? Slingshot a banana? Prepare lobsters for a boil? (See photographic evidence here and video below for proof of all these capabilities.)

In the red corner, Kevin and his beloved Patagonia Tech Web Belt

The Patagonia Tech Web Belt is wicked cool. They’re made in some cool colors that follow the color palettes for the rest of the Patagonia line, so you can even find one to match that awesome fleece you’ve got! There’s no sizing to worry about since it just snakes through the buckle and relies on friction to stay put (and it does stay put). This way it will fit anyone under a 38″ waist, even kids. The bonus is the bottle opening capability. Although, I feel that this could be redesigned, because I’ve still not had 100% success with it. I can open a bottle maybe 3 out of 10 times. The 1 1/2″ webbing is wide enough to give the belt a bold look, and it’s pretty thick, so it’s not going to wear out on ya. I’ve actually used mine to lash my snowlerblades to my duffle bag. Now, Patagonia makes no claims of load limits, but this type of webbing can usually hold a few thousand pounds. Lis, are you willing to tie Cody Townsend’s boat to the dock with your rubber band belt?

Patagonia Tech Web Belt
Patagonia Tech Web Belt
MSRP: $25
Dakine Ryder Belt
Dakine Ryder Belt
MSRP: $14.95


Snow, Glorious Snow! Tahoe Ski Conditions March 2012

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Well, our thirst for snow was finally quenched in a big way this past weekend. Sugar Bowl reported a 114 inches for the storm, so there was much powder to be had. The brunt rolled in Friday night, making powder day #1 a busy one since it was Saturday. Here, a few TMS folks report on the goods:

WHO: Dave, Greyson, and Lis

WHAT: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and sledding

WHEN: March 17–19, 2012

WHERE: Alpine Meadows, Paige Meadows, Kings Beach, Mt. Rose

GEAR: Mountain Hardwear Effusion Jacket, Lole Sandy Jacket, Mountain Hardwear, Smith IOS Goggles, K2 Skis.


Finally the snow came back and made Tahoe feel like winter again. After a few backcountry outings on Friday and Saturday, Sunday was time to spend some time at home with my daughter and not rush off to ski so much. But, back to the skiing first. Randomly met up with Craig Dostie, author of, and we had a great hike and ski in the Mt Rose area on Saturday. It was still snowing lightly but the skiing conditions were perfect. Here are a couple of shots of Craig on the way down and then a great one that Craig shot of me (orange jacket).

On Sunday, it was time to take my daughter out sledding in this great snow, and she was a total trooper. She even carried her own sled up the luge run that we built with our neighbors. I couldn’t get any of her huge smiles from her runs down because I was too busy making sure she didn’t crash into stuff at the end!

Then, took the dog for a walk down on Kings Beach and caught these other 2 great shots. In one, you can see the snow hanging over the west side of the lake and quickly approaching Kings Beach; the other is showing just how much fun everybody was having with this new blanket of white, as these 2 guys from Europe were so happy they were skiing on the Kings Beach pier!


The temptation of a true powder day was too much to pass up, even if I was coughing and sputtering my way out of a cold on Saturday. I wasn’t the only one who rallied for new snow at Alpine Meadows, so I decided to be content with lapping cut-up-but-still-soft powder on the lower mountain, leaving the longer lift lines for the bigger chairs to everyone else.

Sherwood, the backside of the mountain hadn’t yet opened, and there was no indication of when it would, but I got a feeling late morning that I should be ready in case it did. I got into a long line for Scott chair, which puts you into position to get to the back side, and ran into Justin, our Mountain Hardwear rep. He, I and a few others started traversing toward the back. And like magic, the word came that Sherwood was opening, and the handful of us in position went into a full-on stampede, landing us on the first few of chairs up above the still-untouched slope.
The next five laps were the best of my season — fresh tracks, long, arching turns that my new K2 powder skis had been aching for all season — until the rest of civilization rushed over to join us. So one more steep line that drops from back to front through blower powder spraying up to my chest, and I was content. Back to nursing the cold, and wiping the huge grin off my face.


As for me, I got out to Alpine Meadows Saturday and Monday and had two great days, Monday by far being the best. Funny to hear Greyson’s tale of Saturday because I must have been a turn or two in front of or behind him that day. We too were hoping for Sherwood. We were lapping Scott and timed it perfectly, getting to the top of Scott right at the patroller flipped the sign. Our first two runs were beautiful! A pretty much vacant slope all to the few lucky ones. Then, on my third run, it began. Little ants covered the slope… and another run later and the Sherwood line was 10 minutes long. We pretty much called it a day after that, and I took this parting shot of Promised Land from the parking lot.

Sunday, I took the day off and went cross-country skiing with some friends and dogs. It was a winter wonderland! Light winds and a good dosage of snow made for some spectacular scenery. My Mountain Hardwear Effusion Jacket (in orange below) was perfect for the half-snow/half-sun conditions. And check out the difference between the trees on Saturday (above) and then the trees on Sunday (below).

But Monday, oh Monday! I got to Alpine around 8:45am, and spent the whole day seeking out pow with some lady friends. Our first run was a quick Roundhouse lap because the Summit line was daunting from all the waiters, and there was so much fresh that it didn’t matter. Back down to Summit (no line this time) we shot straight over to High Yellow for amazingly light untracked powder. Here’s a peek from the High Yellow hike, looking toward F tree above Sherwood.

We then hiked over to the just-opened Beaver Bowl but it was a hot mess with the sun baking the goodness out of it already. Hey, Alpine, how about opening at 8am in March?!

We spent the rest of the day hanging around High Yellow and Arts Knob, and sneaking in some mellow low angle turns around Lakeview. It was a beautiful day… so sunny! Felt like a Tahoe spring day, with Colorado powder thrown in. I topped it off with $1.50 PBRs at Crest Cafe, then some hot-tubbing. Caught this snow bunny on camera by the hot tub.

Thanks Miracle March! Tahoe snow was back! At least for a day. Yesterday’s warm temps put the Tahoe ski conditions right back where they started more or less.

New Site Feature: Product Q&A

Monday, March 19th, 2012

A couple weeks ago we added a new Q&A site feature that allows you to ask questions on product pages. The Q&A section can be found under the “Questions?” tab on every product page. Read questions and answers from other customers or ask a question of your own.

Questions will be published and answered within 24 hours of asking. You will receive an email confirmation when your question has been answered.

Here’s a screenshot of our Q&A feature in action, on the Mammut Ride Snowpulse Airbag pack product page:

Q&A screenshot

If you ever have any questions about any product on the site, please ask away. Odds are that other shoppers have the same questions you do, and your questions help build our online knowledge base for outdoor gear lovers everywhere. No question is too simple or technical for our gear experts.

For the Love of Training

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Brad Miller of Adventures for Action sets out this May to climb the West Buttress of Denali (Mt. McKinley). This “adventure” is to raise awareness about the “action” they’re striving to achieve, which is currently fundraising for the International Health Partners of the United States and Tanzania (IHP-TZ). Read more about both the Adventure and the Action of Adventures for Action on their website. This blog post is the first of a series Brad is writing for Tahoe Mountain Sports, who is helping to gear him up for Denali.

I have never been fond of training and I think it is a safe assumption that I am not alone in this feeling.  I dislike activities that are physical prerequisites to the “real thing” and because of this feeling, most training that I have done has felt joyless and perfunctory.  I have been very fortunate in that much of my life has been actually living the “real thing.”  I have lived in Yosemite, trekked in Nepal and climbed in many countries abroad.  In these places I did not need to train because I was always doing the activities one might train for.  We did not train to climb; we climbed. And I was physically the better for it.

Since childhood I have always hated to practice and loved to play.  My father would tell me that I had to take the good with the bad and that I was not allowed to participate if I did not put in the work. He left the choice up to me, never forcing activities upon me and so I was able to think on my young priorities and decide what was worth sticking with.  Boy scouts was not; I loved camping, canoeing and learning to shoot, but the meetings and merit badges where too much to put up with.  Wrestling was worth the bad, even though practice was brutal and I often found myself close to vomiting due to the effort.

This feeling about practice has remained unshakable into my adult life, and now training equals practice.  It does not matter how or what I am training for—on a hang board for climbing, riding intervals or hills for an upcoming road or cyclocross race—it’s all the same.  I am ashamed to say that I don’t even particularly enjoy skills training, although I recognize it as absolutely necessary and so strive to learn the necessities that help keep my partners and me safe.  Compared to skills training however, physical training has always seemed to me to be like clockwatching.

And so it was, when faced with the challenge of making an attempt on Denali in May 2012, I was presented with another challenge.  A challenge, I dare say, equal to that of the climb itself. . . the dreaded training.  Training for a climb like Denali is a long affair and despite the ability to peak bag that Tahoe affords, inevitably the process turns repetitive and mundane.  These feelings are accentuated for me by those days when I cannot afford the time to get into Desolation Wilderness.  This inevitably leaves me running, which I loathe, or humping weight up a long forest service road still thinly covered by a weak winter’s ice and snow.  These are the types of things that I would never, ever do for fun, and so I see them as the biggest of chores.  That is, until recently.

On December 9th my brother Russ, who by trade is a climber on a tree trimming crew, was crushed by a 1,500-pound log.  The trauma from the accident broke and dislocated his hip, fractured 4 vertebrae, ripped the meniscus from its mount in his knee and tore 40 percent through one of his bicep mounts.  To say that Russ is lucky to be alive is, for him, as true as it is bitter.  Although thankfully not paralyzed from the accident, Russ is an avid climber and runner and the great log squashing with four subsequent surgeries spread across five months has taken away the physical activities he loves for a long time to come.  With lots of future hard work, many months of time and a fair amount of luck, my climbing partner, brother and best friend will make a good recovery.  But for now, his inability to exercise is taking a physical and mental toll.

In late February Russ and I spoke for a long time about what exercise and outdoor activities mean to us.  He talked about his love of running, how he loves to push past the inevitable “bad section” of a long run and move into the part where he feels like everything is right and he could go on forever.  Pre accident Russ would do this often, running 10 or more miles in a session.  He runs not only for the positive physical effects but also for the love of the movement and the way it makes him feel.  Upon being asked how his run is, it is common for him to answer, “It was the best ever.”

Although Russ sometimes runs 5k races and half marathons (a stress fracture prevented him from participating in the Phoenix marathon), he does not run to train.  He runs to run.  For me, exercise as training for the main event is one thing but running to run is another beast entirely.  This idea, if not totally foreign to me was once hard to understand. I would never run for the sake of it, and in training daily to get fit for another activity I find it hard to maintain motivation.  Often when I am out hauling heavy loads in preparation for the physical toll on Denali I find myself wishing I was already done and counting the minutes or steps until I can quit.  Having set out with a specific session goal, I oftentimes have to consciously fight the pull to quit early and I sometimes lose.  After the conversation with my brother in February, however, that all changed.

I have often said that you don’t need to lose something to really appreciate it, you simply need to occasionally meditate on the things you have.  Similarly, when you see someone else go without or lose something dear to them it makes it even easier to appreciate what you maintain.  I experienced this while traveling through India and seeing the poverty and strife that is rampant there.  My brother’s accident and our subsequent conversation also poignantly illustrated this idea.

In our conversation he expressed a worry that because I tend to not want to be training that I miss out on so much while I am doing it—that I am so focused on the end goal that I lose sight of the journey.  This struck a chord which rang true.  Russ made me realize that I should be more in the moment, that I should appreciate every day that I am out there enjoying nature, pushing myself and getting stronger.  That I should not take even one day for granted.  I should remember, he told me, that he can’t get out there and won’t be able to for a long time, and getting after it is all he wants to do.

When I go out to train now I make sure to do whatever it takes to enjoy myself.  Sometimes that means slowing down and appreciating my surroundings; sometimes it means picking up the pace and really pushing.  Mostly, when I start to get down on myself and thoughts of wanting to quit creep in, or thoughts of not wanting to even go out at all arise, all I have to do is think of my brother.  I think about how much he wants to be out there, not training but just moving.  All I have to do is think of him and I am reminded of how lucky I am to even have the opportunity to train and all that negativity goes away.  In a way I am not only training for Denali, I am also training for him.

For over 8 years I have wanted to stand on the summit of Denali, and long ago I asked Russ if he wanted to someday try with me.  Despite his love of rock climbing he is not a mountaineer and knowing the high and inherent dangers he simply replied, half serious, half in jest, “Sorry bro, but I have no desire to walk into a white death with you.”  Accident or not, Russ would have never come to Denali with me in body, which is probably for the best as any long stormbound stint in a small tent would have lead to an inevitable murder.  Mine I suspect, as he is far stronger in both body and mind than I.  He will however come with me in philosophy.  When I find myself up there suffering—cold, tired, hurting and wanting to quit—all I will have to do is think of him and how he just wants to move and all that appreciation for where I am and what I am doing will come flooding back.  At least, I hope it does. . .

We appreciate Brad’s honesty. Training is hard. Do you struggle with training for mountaineering or other sports? Share your story in the comments.

ABS Avalanche Airbags – the start of the ski airbag revolution

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Avalanche Airbags have been proving themselves again and again this winter — with serious saves in the backcountry. But while ski airbags — devices intended to keep you on top of, not buried under, avalanches — are new to North America, ABS Avalanche Airbags has been perfecting these life-saving devices for 25 years in Europe.

A deployed ABS Avalanche Airbag

A few weeks ago it was an ABS pack that saved Tahoe skier Elyse Saugstad in a deadly slide at Stevens Pass in Washington, but that’s just the latest number in ABS’s success story, which tallies an impressive 97 percent survival rate for users of its product.

Here’s a quick video, where we learned how the ABS Avalanche Airbag system works at our shop:

We also carry and have reviewed the Mammut Ride R.A.S. Avalanche Airbag, which offers an entry-level option for those looking at ski airbags, but the ABS system offers a lot of value for the price premium, not the least of which is their unimpeachable track record.

Over the years, 97 percent of avalanche victims who have activated an ABS airbag have survived. 87 percent were nearly unharmed. These numbers are huge.

How do they do it? ABS Avalanche Airbags use two airbags instead of one, deploying out the sides of the pack, as seen in the video above. This creates redundancy, in case you’re drug by the slide over rocks or through trees. If one pops (pretty tough to do, because the fabric comes from the same people who make Zodiac boats) there’s still another one to help keep you afloat.

ABS found that 150 liters of volume in the airbags will float most users, so they opted for 170 liters for even better results. The twin airbags also have the advantage of not obstructing your vision or movement during a slide.

We mentioned the extremely tough fabric used in the airbag, but they take many other steps to ensure the pack is as fool proof as possible — from metal buckles to keep the pack on your back to a unique triggering system less likely to fail. Instead of pulling a metal cord that can experience friction from corrosion, the handle is actually a small charge that drives the needle through the burst disc of the canister, releasing the gas to fill the airbags. That takes a much shorter, lighter pull then a mechanical trigger. The canister itself is filled with nitrogen instead of compressed dry air like the Mammut Pulse system or others’ CO2 cartridges because nitrogen performs better in a wider range of temperatures and altitudes (think of using a C02 canister on your bike tire and seeing it frosting and slowing).

While the Mammut system offers the convenience of being refilled at any paintball or SCUBA shop, ABS wants both the tank and the trigger back with each use for full inspection, a process made easier through our Activation Unit Exchange Program.

And beyond the ski airbag system itself, the ABS Vario modular pack system is also really well thought out. Instead of buying one avalanche airbag backpack, and being stuck with that size pack anytime you want to go out into the backcountry, the ABS Vario system works with a Vario Base Unit, which includes the harness of the pack and the airbags, and various zip-on Vario Ski Packs, available here in a 25 Liter and a 40 Liter size. That way you can zip on the 25 for a quick dawn patrol, or the 40 for a longer trip, even a overnighter in a hut.

We know there’s a lot to learn about ABS and other avalanche airbags, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions — we’ve been immersed in this stuff this winter. Shoot an email to, call us at 866-891-9177, comment on this post, or hit us up on our Facebook page. We’re here to help!

Tales from the Couch: Jeremy Benson Talks Knee Injuries

Monday, March 12th, 2012

We caught up with skier and Deuter ambassador Jeremy Benson, who reports from his Tahoe City couch on the winter of 2011-12 so far, and his knee injury.

If I had dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “Well, you’re not missing much,” or “You couldn’t have picked a better winter,” over the past couple months, I’d be a rich man. I didn’t pick this winter to blow out my knee, it picked me.  I realize that my friends are trying to make me feel better, to let me know that this isn’t the worst winter to miss, but I’ve got to say that there is no such thing as a good time to blow one’s knee.  Sure it could have been worse, I could have missed last winter’s epic snows like a friend of mine, or maybe it was my destiny, a fortuitous accident that is preventing something worse from happening.  No matter how you spin it, blowing out your knee sucks, period.

We all know this winter has been different than the past couple. When we got off to an early start with powder in early October and November I was ready for another epic winter. When summer returned in October, November, and December, I did my best to keep my spirits high and make the most of what Mother Nature had to offer. Winter mountain biking season was going off, and the couple groomed runs we had to ski were keeping me interested, sort of. I took advantage of the terrible early season ski conditions by getting myself back into the park. I hadn’t been hitting jumps for a few years, but there wasn’t much else going on to get me excited, so hit jumps I did. All it took was one awkward backseat landing. After 25 years of virtually injury-free skiing I had no idea that my ACL could go that easily.

I know plenty of people who have blown their knees—we all do. If you ski a lot, chances are that you or someone you know has or will blow a knee eventually. For some reason I never really thought I was going to join the club and get the “Tahoe tattoo,” but alas, it finally happened. Interestingly, it happened doing something sort of mundane, I wasn’t “huckin’ cliffs” or “shredding the gnar”; it was a 360 over a 10-foot table top that put me out for the season.

[photo by Bekathwia/Flickr]

As much as it sucks to blow your knee, it’s not all doom and gloom. Luckily for people in the Tahoe area, we have some of the finest orthopedic surgeons in the country practicing where we live. Our outdoor lifestyle leaves us generally predisposed for bodily injury, a fact that has made our local surgeons some of the best in the business. Practice makes perfect, right? The same goes for our area’s physical therapists. Not only do we athletes tend to get injured, but when we do we want to get better so we can get back out and get our adrenaline fix. It’s comforting to know you’re in good hands when going under the knife or getting put through your paces at the gym. Seeing autographed posters of Shane McConkey and Daron Rahlves in my surgeon and therapist’s office certainly put my mind at ease.

As someone who spends most of my time in the winter out skiing I found the void created by not skiing filled with recovering from my injury. Of course I’d rather be skiing, but returning my knee to its pre-injury condition has become my focus, and physical therapy is my path to that goal. I meet with my therapist twice a week for sessions that last 3 to 4 hours. For the first time in 10 years I bought a gym membership and I find myself spending a couple hours a day, when I don’t have therapy, working out on my own. Recovering from an injury like this requires some significant self-motivation and a lot of hands on time. I have found the body’s ability to recover to be nothing short of amazing. From the first pedal of the bike to getting off crutches and walking again, each week presents its own challenges and rewards. As cliché as it may sound, it’s my goal to come away from this injury stronger than before.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t need my friends to tell me that I’m not missing out on anything. It’s pretty obvious from my couch that this hasn’t been the best winter in recent years. Regardless of our notable lack of snow, I know there is still plenty of fun to be had out there and I hope that people are enjoying what we’ve got. The saying “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade” couldn’t be more appropriate than for this season in Tahoe. Hopefully, it isn’t over yet…

Can you relate? Do you have a Tahoe tattoo? A knee injury tale? Tell us about it in the comments.

Motocrossing, Ferris Wheeling, Skyscraping, Airport Running

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I’ve had a strange few weeks of adventure, quite unique from my camera’s standard set of shots (Lake Tahoe, my dog in the snow, skiing. snowboarding, climbing…), so I thought I’d take the TMS Adventure of the Week series on this little trip with me. Enjoy the weirdness. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled outdoor adventures next week!

WHO: Lis

WHAT: motocross watching, Ferris wheel riding, skyscraping, airport running

WHERE: Reno, Nevada; Chicago, Illinois; Chicago O’Hare Airport

WHEN: February/March 2012

GEAR: Patagonia Aliso Down Jacket, Keen socks, Smith Optics shades (who knew Smith sponsored Arenacross?!), Patagonia MLC bag, great for all your airport-running needs, and a slew of outdoor clothing to deal with Chicago’s temperamental weather

Atypical adventure #1 hit on February 18th, when Chris scored us tickets to the Arenacross event in Reno. His friend works for the tour so we took full advantage and got finish-line seats for the action. I’m no motorhead—this was my first motocross/arenacross event—and I’ve got to say it was pretty exciting to watch. Those guys (and a few gals that competed) go HUGE! It’s amazing how in control they are with the competition right on their heels.

Next up was Chicago. I went to the windy city for a conference but found myself footloose on Leap Day, a meteorological anomaly that had us outside in 60-something temps, sunny skies and light wind. And luck was with us again on the Navy Pier, where they were offering up free Ferris wheel rides to celebrate the 29th. We got some amazing views of the city, though I may or may not have had a 15-second panic attack on the way up. It was tall and abnormally windy in that little box!

Towards the end of my Chicago sojourn, it was proposed that we visit the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), which at 1,450 feet and 110 stories high is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. We of course headed straight for the Skydeck on the 103rd floor where you can walk out onto this pocket of glass that juts out of the building’s side. If you didn’t guess by my Ferris wheel reaction, I’m afraid of heights, so I almost threw up as I stepped onto what looked like my death 1,353 feet below. The view was amazing though; we were right on level with the clouds breezing by. On a clear day you can see up to 50 miles away.

My final adventure hit unexpectedly. We had arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport 1.5 hours early. After a failed attempt to check our bags on the curb (computer down), we waited in the ultra-long line inside to only face another computer failure (we were not showing in the system). United had just merged with Continental two days before so we probably should have read the news and got there 3 hours early! After waiting in the designated “problem” line, we were finally helped by a human, found (very slowly) in the system and sent on our way. But a long security line had us delayed again. Nice security man told us we were in trouble time-wise so he had us go back to United to get an escort to the front of the line. Once through the scanners and shoe tying, we had mere minutes. I knew what had to be done. I RAN LIKE THE WIND! Bags bouncing all over the place, dodging children and the elderly, bypassing escalators for stairs both up and down, speeding past the lazys on the moving sidewalks. But when I got to our gate, I was a few minutes too late. The doors had been shut, so I had to watch our plane reverse and fly away without us.

And that concludes March’s first Adventure of the Week. No, luck was not with us at O’Hare if you want to know how that ended. We were esentially stuck there all day, and shoved on a Delta flight at the end of the day. I was joyfully seated in the very last row of the cramped, four-seat-wide plane, right next to a 6-month-old who threw up the entire last hour of the flight. And he pooped in his shoe.

The Tahoe Mountain Sports Adventure of the Week blog series takes a walk (or motocross spectate, Ferris wheel ride, skyscraper gape, airport run) in someone else’s shoes, from pro athletes to local Tahoe adventurers. Let us know if you’ve got an adventure to share.

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