Brennan Lagasse is a writer, educator, photographer, athlete and ski guide living on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, CA. Brennan has skied first descents all over the world, from the Arctic to Antarctic, including ski descents on all seven of the world’s continents. He co-guides a one of a kind helicopter assisted ski touring program in Alaska’s famed Chugach Mountains each winter, but is just as content to be backcountry skiing and adventuring in his home range of the Sierra Nevada, whenever possible. You can check out some of Brennan’s work at: facebook.com/stateofthebackcountry
Black Diamond Equipment (BD) makes just about every piece of ski gear you need to get into the backcountry, and get home safely. As the Tahoe area BD Ski Ambassador, three of my favorite pieces of BD gear that I use and trust are the Carbon Megawatt Skis, Anarchist Avalung Pack, and the Whippet pole. All three are perfect tools for use in the Sierra Nevada, but are just as apt for use abroad.
It’s as if these skis were specifically made for skiing the West Shore peaks of Lake Tahoe. The Carbon Megawatt is the closest powder ski I’ve found that works with you on the up, but doesn’t compromise performance on the down. It’s what most current ski manufacturers are going for when they’re designing skis for the backcountry market, but unfortunately all too often the skis either kill it on the up, and lack integrity on the down, or they’re horrible on the up, and slay it on the down.
As playful, responsive and fun as these skis are to ski, they really shine in the skin track as well. BD has worked on shaving necessary pounds off their original model for a few years and have finally found a balance where at just over 8 lbs it’s hard to find another surfy powder ski that’s as light as these, but also keeps the performance so high on the descent. For this years model, the Carbon Megawatts are 2.5 pound lighter than the stock model, which is a huge improvement over the already stellar model produced from last year!
I’ve also been able to ski the Carbon Megawatt’s (188 cm) in variable terrain and have been quite impressed. They are a powder ski through and through, but they do hold an edge and can get through some firm junk when need be. That’s a huge bonus for such a large ski. In fact, I came to trust last years model so much that as I got fully used to the skis I found myself skiing them in lines that I normally wouldn’t (tight, complex, steep couloirs) because they can hold an edge and are simply so much fun to ski.
Overall, I’ve yet to find another fat ski (147/120/127) with such a solid turning radius (28 meters) that can wiggle when need be, open up whenever possible, break and climb skin tracks so fluidly, yet also get you through variability. They’re a trusted tool, and if you find yourself looking down a few thousand feet of untouched bliss this winter, your fun factor will be through the roof with a pair of these Black Diamond skis strapped to your feet.
Anarchist Avalung Pack
BD has a whole line of Avalung packs that come in all different shapes and sizes to accommodate diverse needs for diverse skiers. I choose to go with the Anarchist because it’s their biggest model (45L in the M/L size, 43L in the S/M size). I often need to carry a lot of gear on ski mountaineering adventures, and am always lugging around extra gear when ski guiding. This pack is also big enough to use on a multiday tour, which is nice to have a pack that can cinch down when you don’t have a ton of gear on a tour, but can also accommodate more gear when need be.
One of the standout features of the Anarchist Avalung pack is the ergoACTIV suspension, which is just a fancy way of saying the pack is ridiculously comfortable. That’s a huge difference with other similarly sized packs that feel bulky when you wear them-no matter what’s inside. This does not happen with this Avalung backpack. The packs seems to move with you and the padding on the back does a great job meshing to ones back. It’s incredibly comfortable for how much storage you get, and I haven’t even nailed the major feature yet.
The Avalung. With airbag packs becoming more common each season, and for good reason, you have to ask yourself if having a pack with the Avalung feature is worth it to you. I have an airbag pack that I trust, but whenever I’m not using my airbag, my thought is why not have a pack that has a built in Avalung feature, that stows away in such a manner that you barely know it’s there? It’s easy to pull out on the down, and it’s another safety tool to help support your safety in the backcountry in case you become buried in an avalanche. In my opinion it’s a no brainer, everyone should have this device in their backcountry quiver.
Note – The Avalung only works if you know how to use it.
The Whippet is a specialized ski tool, one I feel a majority of ski mountaineers should have at their disposal. While it’s not a fully dependable backup for an ice axe, over the past few years I’ve found myself using it often on ascents. Instead of having to swap out your ski poles for an ice axe, the whippet is right there, providing a secure hard point to help assist you on a climb. If you’re not in need of the bomber protection an ice axe shaft and pick brings the to the table, which is commonly the case depending on your line, the BD Whippet is a great lightweight choice.
However, the tool leaves its biggest impression on the down, especially in tight, complex lines where falling is not an option. If you happen to be in variable terrain, or have a slip on a descent, the Whippet’s pick can help keep your incident to a minor one by arresting a fall. I’ve also found it great for lines that you and your partners are skiing in pitches. While I’m waiting to ski or for my partners to ski, I can place the pick in a slope as protection, and whether it’s a mental help or in the case of steep and/or firm terrain a physical assist, the added security is invaluable.