Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming.
Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming. (Greg Von Doersten)

Rando Revolution

Drawn to the backcountry? With the new wave of alpine touring gear, freedom is just beyond the ropes

Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming.

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“LEARN TO TELEMARK” used to be the mantralike response you got whenever you asked your local ski shop dude how to dabble in a little hut-to-hut action. The trouble then, as now, is that not everyone wants to spend a bunch of weekends enduring face plants on the bunny hill as preparation. But there is hope. It’s called alpine touring (AT), and as many as 100,000 North Americans have embraced it as a more user-friendly ticket to the backcountry.

Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming. Ready to rip: ski mountaineers Hans Johnston (left) and Wesley Bunch atop Rendezvous Mountain, Wyoming.

Known to Europeans as randonnée (“long hike”), AT skis are sturdy and mounted with pivoting toe bindings that allow powder hounds to ascend hills, then lock down their heels for alpine-style turns. Responding to the off-piste craze—and realizing that available rando boots were often sloppy, and the sticks too hefty—a host of boot makers, along with ski giants K2 and Atomic, among others, have joined boutique companies such as Jackson, Wyoming-based Life-Link to create a variety of safe and responsive AT options. On the pages that follow you’ll find complete rando setups for two different off-piste personas. Bachelor number one, whom we’ll call the Ounce Shaver, is into epic hut trips and all the vertical that comes with a week in the backcountry. He wants the most feathery AT gear available. Our second skier, the Bomber, is tricked out for a day of couloir skiing. With stiffer boots and somewhat beefier skis, bindings, and other essentials, he’s less worried about weight than about having gear that’s tough enough to handle the chutes. And because the mountains don’t care what labels you wear, both skiers are equipped with avalanche gear. Our advice: Choose a setup that’s right for you, sign up for a snow-safety course, then head for the hills. Your own long hike awaits.

The Ounce Shaver

Light essentials for wilderness touring


Protection: Black Diamond AvaLung 2 The new AvaLung allows buried slide victims to suck O2 out of snow, at less than half the weight of its predecessor. ($120; 9 oz)

Beacon: Backcountry Access Tracker DTS This is the most popular transceiver in North America, and for good reason—five LEDs point the way to a buried victim. ($300; 11 oz)

Skis: Atomic TG:10 Super light The TG:10s feel like helium underfoot during uphill slogs, yet deliver a steady downhill ride if not pushed beyond their comfort zone. ($314; 6 lbs, 2 oz)

Skins: Backcountry Access Deluxe Low-Fat Climbing Skins Every ounce counts. These daisy-hued strips have less heft, and stick like pine tar. ($120; 1 lb, 4 oz)

Pack: The North Face MG45 A simple, stout pack for pared-down hut trips, the MG45 has 2,750 cubic inches for food, fleece, and sleeping bag, plus ski slots for the occasional ridge scramble. ($129; 4 lbs)

Probe: Black Diamond Quickdraw Probe Tour 235 Finding an avalanche victim is stressful enough without a clumsy probe. The seven-foot-seven pole extends in seconds and locks automatically. ($52; 9 oz) Shovel: G3 AviTech This digger offers bike-tube-style welding where telescoping shaft meets blade. Shaving ounces? Leave the handle’s middle section at home. ($61; 1 lb, 7 oz)

Boots: Dynafit TLT 700 Stiffer tongues and a new, burlier cuff don’t make for the market’s most featherlight slipper. But then, cranking turns with a 40-pound rucksack was never this fun. ($435; size 8, 7 lbs, 1 oz)

Poles: Indigo Equipment Epic Ice can clog the holes of lesser push-button adjustable poles. But these light carbon-fiber/aluminum tubes block it with a weather-stopping membrane. ($99; 1 lb, 3 oz)

Bindings: Dynafit TourLite Tri-Step Son of the groundbreaking TourLite Tech, the Tri-Step moves closer to a step-in binding. Requires boots with special fittings. ($300; 2 lbs)

The Bomber

Solid, sturdy A.T. gear for picking off couloirs and steep chutes


Skis: K2 Shuksan A pair of aluminum-titanium sheets and a healthy waist make these big-mountain planks ideal for GS turns in powder or spring slop. ($459; 7 lbs, 10 oz)

Bindings: Fritschi Freeride The step-in-and-go favorite of ski patrollers gets beefier with clamping power that now rivals that of in-bounds bindings. ($250; 4 lbs, 7 oz)

Poles: Black Diamond FlickLock Adjustable Probe Pole with optional Whippet self-arrest conversion kit. Bound for dicey terrain? Affix the Whippet to one of your FlickLocks to prevent a steep-angle stumble from turning into a ripper. (As shown: $165; 1 lb, 8 oz)

Skins: G3 High Performance Climbing Skins A new ultratacky adhesive keeps these glued to your boards when the going gets vertical. ($104; 1 lb, 5 oz)

Beacon: Ortovox X1 This user-friendly avalanche transceiver tries to eliminate human mistakes. One feature: You can’t put it on without switching it on. ($280; 6 oz)

Protection: Life-Link ABS PACK Grabbed by a slide? Pull the rip cord, and a pair of air bags hidden in this backpack inflate. With a little luck, they’ll bob you to safety. ($645; 6 lbs, 7 oz)

Shovel: Backcountry Access Tour Shovel and Probe System Shovels are much alike, but this one’s stout handle hides a seven-foot probe pole. ($80; 1 lb, 8 oz)

Boots: Lowa Struktura EVO A stiffer, one-piece tongue makes these three-buckle wonders a top choice when atop a hairy couloir. ($500; size 10, 8 lbs, 10 oz)

Where To Find It

Atomic, 800-258-5020,

Backcountry Access, 800-670-8735,

Black Diamond Equipment/Fritschi, 801-278-5533,

G3, 866-924-9048,

Indigo Equipment, 970-704-0229,

K2, 800-426-1617,

Life-Link/Dynafit, 800-443-8620,

Lowa, 888-335-5092,

The North Face, 800-719-6678,

Ortovox, 603-746-3176,

Survival on Snow, 780-418-4040,

From Outside Magazine, Jan 2003 Lead Photo: Greg Von Doersten

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