Field Test -- Norway's Romsdal Alps (part I)

The Gear Junkie: Field Test—Norway’s Romsdal Alps (part I)
By STEPHEN REGENOLD

High above a fjord, on a mountain face battered by wind, my skis cut a subtle line on a blank canvas of white. It’s 1p.m. on Kirketaket, a 4,721-foot peak in Norway’s Romsdal Alps, and I’m heading up-mountain on a ski tour.

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The group—a mix of American and Norwegian skiers—is halfway through the day-long ascent. My gear arsenal includes alpine-touring skis and boots, prototype wool apparel, new avalanche safety equipment, an altimeter watch, and outerwear to protect against the fickle elements of coastal Norway.

My ski setup—which I wrote about in this column last month—includes Black Diamond Kilowatt skis ($539, www.bdel.com) mounted with Fritschi Diamir Freeride Plus bindings ($425); Black Diamond’s Ascension ski skins ($122); and a discontinued pair of adjustable-length poles from Indigo.

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On my feet are SCARPA’s Spirit 4 boots ($669, www.scarpa.com), a four-buckle model for serious alpine descents, though with a “walk” mode to add flex while ascending.

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Overall, this gear works well, especially going downhill, where the powerful Kilowatt skis slice hard-pack snow and ice. But for the uphill—which is the meat of the adventure on a peak like Kirketaket—I am less impressed.

Everything works as promised—my boots flexing, skins gripping the snow, the bindings pivoting to provide an effective free-heel stride—though it is a heavy and clunky train of motion. Next time I’ll choose lighter gear, banking on a bit less performance heading downhill and more efficiency for going up.

Stowed away in my pack are two pieces of to-be-released safety gear from Backcountry Access (www.backcountryaccess.com) that I fortunately will never touch on this trip.

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The Tour shovel—made for digging fast through snow after an avalanche—costs just $39 and at 1 pound 2 ounces is among the lightest of its type ever made. Its aluminum shaft and blade come apart for stashing in a pack and measure about 24 inches long when assembled.

The Carbon snow probe ($80) is comprised of a foldable, seven-section carbon-fiber tube. It weighs almost nothing—7 ounces!—but clicks together to create a solid 8-foot-long pole for searches in the snow.

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For personal safety, I keep Backcountry Access’ Tracker DTS avalanche beacon ($290) strapped to my body. This beacon bleeps out my location at all times via radio signals and has an easy-to-use LED interface enabled during a search.

As a backup parachute, I employ Black Diamond’s Covert 32 AvaLung backpack ($270), which is a day-trip-size pack with built-in sleeves, straps and pockets for a shovel, probe and other gear. But what makes this ski pack special is its integrated AvaLung, an air-hose apparatus that can help a skier breathe buried in a snow slide.

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Heading up Kirketaket, I keep the AvaLung’s valve extended and ready for use. But the snow is safe on our trip, and we ski up the mountain with few concerns, the white peak above, slate-blue fjords thousands of feet below, a long and gorgeous day in the coastal Alps of Norway.

Part II of this article can be found here.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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